It is a pity the doctors of the House of Commons don’t find time for research. Before rallying to the cause of Alfie Dingley and campaigning ‘to change the law banning the medicinal use of cannabis’ they should have checked the facts. So should the Guardian.
So too should Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News, who also assumes that cannabis-based meds are illegal in the UK.
It simply is not true. The medicinal use of cannabis is not illegal in the UK. Licensed medicines, extracted and purified substances from the cannabis plant have been available for many years.
One of its active ingredients, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, under the name of Nabilone and now made synthetically, has been around for about 30 years and is used for the relief of nausea resulting from chemotherapy. There are caveats. It is not uniformly well-tolerated and can exacerbate rather than reduce vomiting. Since safer and more efficient medications exist, THC-derived clinical compounds tend to be used only when other interventions have failed.
Sativex, a combination of THC and another ingredient, cannabidiol or CBD, is licensed for the relief of muscle stiffness (spasticity) in patients with multiple sclerosis. Warnings on its use are similarly extensive. Finally CBD is being clinically tested for some types of epilepsy. In the US Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical-grade form of CBD developed by GW Pharmaceuticals, has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. In the UK the work to clear it is not complete.
For anyone who hasn’t been in Holland and Barrett recently, cannabis oil which contains CBD is available to buy in the UK, subject to the Medicines & Healthcare products
Regulatory Agency (MHRA) statement on products containing CBD. It is not illegal if it contains less than 0.05 per cent THC.
The trouble is that the term ‘cannabis oil’ is dangerously imprecise. The make-up of the cannabis oil Alfie Dingley’s mother says her child needs and which is available to her in the Netherlands has never been specified despite the extensive news coverage of the case. Such misleading and inaccurate reportage raises the question as to its purpose – to lobby for the legalisation of the Class B drug, perhaps?
The bottom line is that even in the upside-down and parallel truths world we live in, there is still such a thing as objective fact. We are, too, still a first world nation with a first world pharmaceutical approval system. It is not foolproof, as the terrible thalidomide tragedy showed us, but such a tragedy is exactly what it is designed to protect us from – and it does.
The United States, which never succumbed to thalidomide, is now soaking up untested (recreational) medipot like there is no tomorrow, without even considering its possible consequences. Of these, the risk of psychosis comes high. Added to this now are warnings that CBD may be teratogenic (causing birth deformities) or epigenetic (affecting genetic development).
The Home Office is right to be cautious. It would, as the Commons doctors should know, be dangerously irresponsible to be otherwise. It does not need another scandal or disaster on its doorstep.
Rather than acting as fairy godmother, Dr Dan Poulter MP would do better to heed the words of physicist, cancer researcher and science writer (and joint recipient of the 2014 Nature / Sense About Science Maddox Prize) Dr David Robert Grimes: ‘The reality is that most of the health claims made about cannabis are wrong-headed and devoid of evidence.’
Dr Poulter and his colleagues are giving their professional and political status to a false cause.