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Tagged In:  Drugs

The thorny issue of whether the UK should prescribe cannabis on the NHS is one that has raged for many years. Its supporters say it could transform the lives of people suffering from a variety of debilitating conditions, while its detractors draw attention to the potential side effects – including, they say, long-term mental health problems.

However, the parliamentary All Party Group for Drug Policy Reform (APGDPR) concluded this month that cannabis does have its place on the approved NHS drugs list. Led by Caroline Lucas MP and Baroness Meacher, the group highlighted the countries which already prescribe medicinal cannabis; Germany, Switzerland and Canada amongst their number, along with 24 US states.

Research included talking to those who currently use cannabis illegally to ease their pain. Indeed, it has been estimated that there could be as many as a million people in the UK doing so. Members also conducted a small online survey of health professionals amongst other investigations.

More than 85 per cent of respondents said that cannabis provided “great relief” from their symptoms, with nine out of ten people reporting no or mild side effects. In contrast, they said that they had experienced “significant”, “severe” and “very severe” side effects from prescribed medication.

The parliamentary group considered evidence gathered by the American Drug Policy Alliance, which says the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in 24 states has had a positive societal effect. Relaxed cannabis laws are thought to relate to reductions in incidents of homicide and assault, while a relationship has been established between medicinal cannabis use and a decrease in opioid overdose fatalities. Using cannabis in this way is also thought to reduce users’ dependence on alcohol, as well as reducing the prevalence of suicide in young adult males.

In terms of side effects, the APGDPR found that there is “probably a small link between cannabis and schizophrenia for those who start using cannabis at an early age, and if the individual has a genetic predisposition to psychosis”.

All findings considered, the APGDPR has recommended that the UK Government should move to allow lawful access to medicinal cannabis. While this certainly won’t be a quick change in legislation, it will certainly be one to watch for substance misuse, offender healthcare professionals and prison pharmacists over the coming years. 
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