By co-incidence there is an article in today's Times (UK) about cannabis / cannaboids and MS:
August 01, 2005
A strong whiff of hypocrisy
This morally dubious ban on medicinal cannabis is sentencing patients to a life in agony
HOW SHAMEFULLY callous is the Government’s policy on medicinal cannabis use? Just ask Pauline Taylor, a former Macmillan nurse who for 20 years has suffered increasingly debilitating pain from multiple sclerosis. Seven months ago the 53-year-old wheelchair user from Durham discovered an unapproved medication which, as she movingly recounts, “has finally given me my legs back”. Too bad for Ms Taylor, then, that her agony-deadening “magic medicine” last week became the latest officially sanctioned target in a renewed legal assault on cannabis-based pain relief. After all, as the Home Office coldly points out, the law must be enforced.
A number of volunteer networks dedicated to supplying vulnerable patients with medicinal cannabis have attracted unusually close attention from the police. Most recently, it was the turn of Ms Taylor’s suppliers, a five-year-old non-profit group based in Cumbria that enhances home-made chocolate bars with 2 per cent by weight of donated cannabis. Around a hundred “cannachoc” bars have until recently found their way across Britain each week, sent on medical proof that the recipient had MS.
Cumbrian police and the Home Office have known about the operation for years, but only now — 1,600 clients later — have the authorities decided to act. Last week three of those involved were charged with conspiracy to supply a controlled drug, an offence that carries a possible 14-year prison sentence. The timing suggests a pungent whiff of political interference.
Certainly, there remains considerable medical concern about cannabis; pot smoking has been strongly linked with an increased risk of schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and other mental disorders. The British Medical Association insists that raw cannabis is not a “suitable medicinal product”, despite the “anecdotal” claims of its efficacy. Unscientific, personal accounts they may be — yet among Britain's estimated 85,000 MS sufferers, many who in desperation have tried cannabis to relieve their symptoms perceive a clear, life-enhancing benefit.
Even the most coldhearted policy-maker would be moved by some of the tearfully grateful letters received by the chocolate supplier, which calls itself Therapeutic Help from Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis. “Dear whoever,” writes an elderly woman in Wokingham. “Thank you so much for my first supply of cannachoc. It is wonderful. For the first time in many, many months I do not have ‘jerking’ legs in the evenings and can sit still and watch TV.”
From Essex, an elderly woman says that she can finally get to sleep again, the physical pain having temporarily subsided, “and I don’t feel any high-ness at all”. As Ms Taylor sees it, the Home Office bureaucrats whom she suspects of ordering her supply chain broken have clearly never experienced chronic, total body pain. “I’d like Charles Clarke to have my MS for 24 hours and see how he’d feel,” she says. “He has no goddam right to tell me what I can put into my body.”
The Home Secretary does seem to be on an extraordinarily ill-conceived trip. The new hard line on suppliers of medicinal cannabis echoes a wider unease within government at last year’s reclassification of the drug by David Blunkett. Before the general election the Prime Minister suggested that cannabis “isn’t quite as harmless as people make out”, and Mr Clarke wrote to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs demanding that it re-examine the reclassification in view of new health concerns. Could this current assault on medicinal use — backed by a recent Court of Appeal ruling that users have no defence of “necessity” in relieving their pain — be a deliberate attempt to distance Mr Clarke from his predecessor’s more licentious era, when the spliff became as morally tolerable as the impregnation of another man’s wife?
Nothing of the sort, insists the Home Office. Any decision to bring charges is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS, in turn, says it would act only after receiving a file from the police, and that on no account would there be a political decision to prosecute. Because cannabis remains illegal, that decision would rest simply on the quality of evidence and whether it would be “in the public interest”.
Forget passing the joint: this is passing the buck until any logic fades into an embarrassing blur. For all the “public interest” in breaking up these altruistic if unauthorised networks, the practical consequence of prosecution will be simply to send the “clients” — typically elderly, middle-class, otherwise law-abiding citizens — to criminal dealers. Or, alternatively, to lead them to suffer in silence until an “official” cannabis-based medicine is approved for use. Based on recent experience, they could be waiting some time.
This has always been the favoured get-out clause, from the Health Department to the Home Office. Because users of raw cannabis risk addiction and chronic health effects, ministers point out, only a properly tested medical preparation can be allowed. All that is needed is the approval of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
So where is the MHRA’s approval for the most promising cannabis-based medication under development, a mouth spray extensively tested by the British company GW Pharmaceuticals? In April, Canada gave the spray formal approval. It was expected to gain its UK licence long before now — but, well, the MHRA just needs a few more test results before it can be absolutely certain.
Bureaucracies, by their nature, favour delays over decision-making. People, on the other hand, feel the intense, life-shattering pain of disease very much in the here and now. Those unfortunate enough to have MS — or Aids, arthritis and any other severe condition where cannabis may alleviate symptoms — should surely be allowed to bear the risk of side effects and possible long-term damage in exchange for the pain control that cannabis might bring.
Until a legal medicine is made available, how can it make moral sense for the authorities to target the well-intentioned volunteers offering a short-term alternative?
End of article
Back in May the UK Gov (in fact a government agency) gave £2 million to expand a study looking at the possible benefits of cannabis / cannaboids for those with secondary MS.
The UK MS Society website recently had an advert asking for participation in a trial for spasticity. The company involved is GW which manufactures Sativex so the trial treatment probably involves cannabis / cannaboids.
Given all of this - I think it would be worth having a separate section (as is done for Rebif, Copaxone etc) for cannabis / cannaboid treatments.
I am the most law-abiding, anti-drug person you can imagine (never taken anything) and I recognise that the use of cannabis / cannaboids for medical reasons is forbidden in many countries. However, given the range of research being undertaken and the drugs e.g. Sativex which are available in some countries, sharing experience might be useful.