Momentum builds for medicinal cannabis

Lynne Hughes argues Wales should use its voice to support cannabis use for medicinal purposes

The medical use of cannabis has an extremely long history and there are now a growing number of countries which regulate the medical use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives. Canada, the Netherlands, Israel and over 20 States in the US regulate herbal cannabis for medical use and a number of European countries including Germany and Switzerland enable patients to import cannabis for medical use from the Netherlands.

Earlier this year a government-commissioned review in Ireland recommended the medicinal use of cannabis to be legalised for the treatment of several conditions. The drug will be monitored by health service experts and used to treat patients with conditions such as epilepsy, intractable nausea and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Meanwhile in the UK, the efficacy of cannabis is well established. In 2014 Wales became and remains the only nation in the UK where the cannabinoid symptom management drug Sativex is available on the NHS. However, it is only licenced for the treatment of spasticity and then only available to a small group of people living with MS who meet the criteria.

In 2016, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Drug Policy Reform called on the UK government to legalise medical cannabis based on the results of their 7 month inquiry into the issue and on the findings of an independent review of global evidence led by Professor Michael P Barnes.

In October, Newport West MP Paul Flynn presented a 10 minute rule bill on the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use in Westminster.  The bill was put through unopposed to the next reading on 23rd February 2018.

In light of positive evidence of the use of cannabis in treating pain and spasticity, the MS Society UK has changed its policy position and is now calling on the UK Government and health bodies to develop a system that legalises cannabis for medicinal use – we estimate that around 10,000 people with MS in the UK could benefit from this.

A few weeks ago people living with and affected by a range of conditions such as MS, Epilepsy, Cancer and Dystonia met with Assembly Members at special meeting of the Cross Party Group on Neurological Conditions to discuss the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

We heard how many people are using illegally obtained cannabis for medicinal purposes but by doing so risk prosecution.

Accessing a reputable supply of cannabis is a real issue for many and some are forced to utilise street dealers – not only is this putting them at risk of prosecution but is also exposing them to other drugs.

Many have said that although they would like to, they were not using cannabis to help manage their symptoms because they simply don’t know where to get it and how much they should use if they did.

Momentum is shifting and the discussion has moved on, it is no longer about should cannabis be legalised for medicinal purposes, it’s about when and what steps we need to put in place to make it happen.

Next week, on the 17th, our Assembly Members will be debating a motion in the Senedd on cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Whilst it may not be currently in the gift of the Government in Wales to legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes, the Welsh Government can and should exert pressure on the UK Government to reschedule cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, thus recognising the medicinal value of the drug.  

Others have taken to the pages of Click on Wales previously to explain how countries around the world were economically benefiting from producing cannabis for medicinal purposes and argue that Wales could have a ‘slice of this action’.

If the figures published by North Wales Police on the number of cannabis and marijuana farms they discovered over the past five years is anything to go by, we clearly have a booming cannabis growing industry. This is an industry however which profits from the misery of human trafficking and labour exploitation. It is also an industry which cares little for people living with Cancer, MS and Dystonia who need to use cannabis to ease their symptoms of chronic pain and muscle spasms.

One of the positions that I’ve sometimes heard against making cannabis available for medicinal use is that we would potentially see patients getting their prescriptions for cannabis and selling it on the streets.

The symptoms associated with MS can be relentless and exhausting, and make it impossible to manage daily life. The conventional daily drug regime for those experiencing these symptoms can include; morphine, codeine, paracetamol, pregabalin and diazepam.

Since my time at the MS Society, I have never known of anyone living with MS who collects their Oramorph or any other drug for that matter then heads off to the nearest street corner to sell it!

People with long term conditions like MS, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, chronic neuropathic pain, chronic pain following shingles, the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer, and other severe health problems could all benefit from medicinal cannabis but are denied from doing so.

Wales can and should have a system whereby cannabis for medicinal purposes could be made available via a prescription to those who could benefit.

We can and should make this happen, now!


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer

Lynne Hughes is the Director of MS Society Cymru

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