UK: Should Cannabis Oil Be Legal for Medical Use?

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Cannabis has a long history of being one of the oldest medicines; the term 'medical cannabis' is a term used for obtaining the derivatives from the cannabis plant. The Sativa which is found in the plant contains many compounds which are used to treat and relieve severe and chronic symptoms. Cannabis has been used by human beings as early as 12,000 years go; It has been used for thousands of years for medical, spiritual and social purposes. Records also show that cannabis grains were once considered a crucial food source in ancient China, the seeds were eaten as a highly nutritious "A Chinese medical text (1578 AD) [Bencao Gangmu Materia Medica, by Li Shizhen] describes the use of marijuana to treat vomiting, parasitic infections, and haemorrhage. Marijuana continues to be used in China as a folk remedy for diarrhoea and dysentery and to stimulate the appetite." However, today's medical cannabis' is used for a broad range of illnesses and the movement to revive it for medical reasons is directed by various factors, many beyond the realm of science. 

As the legal use of cannabis products grew in many different countries, consumers were becoming more curious about their options; these include cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), both have very different side effects when both compounds interact with the bodies endocannabinoid system (ECS). The endocannabinoid system was discovered in The 1990s, it was learnt that we all had our very own unique endocannabinoid receptor system in our bodies. In research studies, it was shown that this system was accountable for our crucial body functions, such as controlling mood, appetite, pain and inflammation. In the brain the endocannabinoids and their receptors play a fundamental role in regulating memory, smell, touch, pleasure, hearing, concentration, awareness of time, hearing, and sight) and brain development. Through-out the body within the endocannabinoid system, there are two receptors; CB1 and CBD2 these are neurons that form a lock, and the cannabinoids are the key. In the brain, there are a high number of CB1 receptors, especially in the Hypothalamus, Hippocampus and Amygdala. CB2 receptors are most commonly found in the tonsils, spleen and immune cells. 

The two primary cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) both share similarities, but where tetrahydrocannabinol may not be acceptable, cannabidiol is a viable therapeutic option. Cannabidiol is not from the cannabis you may think, and it does not give the psychoactive feeling (high) that cannabis/marijuana stigma that people associate it with. Cannabidiol products are derived from the industrial hemp plant, which is grown by thousands of farmers across Europe. These crops are approved by the European Union and contain less than 0.2 per cent of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compounds that are found in cannabis which is psychoactive and considered illegal. 

Cannabis has become extremely popular in the health industry recently due to the increased claimed health benefits from cannabis oil (CBD), which is sold as a food supplement in many health stores in the high street. The centre for medical cannabis (CMC) has revealed that the "UK CBD market is worth over £300 million and is expected to reach over £1 billion by 2025". This shows that natural health supplements are becoming more popular with the public rather than prescription drugs. Now more people are open to cannabis oil due to the positive effects found through the CBD food supplements, and this has opened more research into medical cannabis. However, very few people in the UK will be approved for a prescription for medical cannabis.

Currently, the NHS will only prescribe medical cannabis for conditions such as rare and severe forms of epilepsy; nausea caused by chemotherapy and people with extreme muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis (MS). This would only be considered when all other treatments had been exhausted, or they were not suitable. Recently it has been discovered that cannabis has shown positive effects for people who suffer from depression, pain and epilepsy. The NHS has approved and prescribed medical cannabis as a treatment for severe life-threatening epilepsy for children and adults. During 2018 a relaxation in the rules allowed specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis-derived medicines in limited circumstances.

The first person to be prescribed medical cannabis in the UK was a young boy named Billy Caldwell; he suffered from over one hundred epileptic seizures a day. His local GP in Northern Ireland, Dr Brendan O'Hare decided that medical cannabis was a suitable treatment to help with his life-threatening epilepsy. Unfortunately, at the time nowhere in the UK could dispense his prescription. Leading the family to travel to Toronto Canada, where it is legal to dispense cannabis for medical reasons. After taking the drug, Billy was seizure-free for 300 days. Ms Caldwell and her son made the trip back to Canada to get a six-month supply but on their return border officials seized the prescription. Since then, the NHS has agreed to pay for the cannabis medicine that billy needs after the law in the UK changed on November 1, 2018, for un-licensed cannabis medicine could be prescribed for children.

Although medical cannabis has its positives, the recreational use of cannabis for medical reasons has its negatives. When smoking it regularly, there is a lot of reliable evidence to show It has been linked to many mental health problems such as schizophrenia, suicidal thoughts and developing bipolar disorders associated with the age of onset use, the strength of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the frequency/duration of use. Evidence shows the younger you are when you start using it, the more you may be at risk of mental health problems in the future. This is because your brain is still developing and can be more easily damaged by the active chemicals found in cannabis and is associated with lowering the age of onset schizophrenia. Cannabis can both worsen and improve mental health issues depending on the individual and other factors including if you are 'genetically vulnerable' this means you may be more high risk to developing a mental illness if a member of your family suffers also. Around 13.1 million people are cannabis dependent globally.

The evidence today suggests and demonstrates both health benefits and harms of medical cannabis. For nearly 150 years, the use of cannabis for medical reasons continues to be debated globally. In the British and American pharmacopoeia, cannabis extracts were once listed for anticonvulsant and sedative effects, but a century later was removed for familiar reasons that fuel today's debates.

The movement to strengthen cannabis as a medicine to ease pain, epileptic disorders, boost appetite, alleviate an endless of other metabolic or neurological diseases, is guided by multiple factors. These include weaknesses in current medications to treat distinct diseases or symptoms, alongside with self-reported benefits derived from cannabis. As its increasingly been prescribed for various medical reasons, its use remains controversial; it is deemed as a class 1 controlled substance in the united states, which makes it illegal under federal law. In the class 1 category drugs are considered to be to have high abuse potential, lack of acceptable safety and no accepted medical use. Despite this fact, over half the states in the United States have approved the prescribing of cannabis for medical reasons.

Some of the arguments on legalizing cannabis include that it is safer than alcohol, it is a natural treatment for multiple types of chronic pain and it helps control or reduces symptoms associated with various illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer. Arguments from the opposite include: cannabis has a high risk of addiction and abuse, overuse can impair short-term memory and cognitive ability and those children would then have easier access to the drug. Regardless of which side of the argument you support, there are always potential side effects and dangers relating to any pain-relieving drugs. Stating that cannabis presents a high risk to a person's mental health doesn't define a clear answer to whether or not cannabis should be discriminated or not, as drug policies are occasionally very inconsistent in regular terms and very much more in practice. The facts regarding cannabis and the risk to mental health should inform drugs policies but does not necessarily mean that cannabis for medical use should be avoided or that cannabis should remain illegal.

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