Cannabis: The ongoing medical battle

9 Mins read

The legalisation of cannabis has been an argument between the general public and Government legislators for years. With the ongoing debate, the future of medical marijuana becoming more accessible, remains unknown.

One of the main arguments for legalisation is the use of cannabis for medical purposes. This has been further highlighted in the news, where families attempt and fail to acquire medical cannabis as a form of treatment.

Studies suggest that cannabinoids, the active chemicals in medical marijuana are similar to chemicals in the body that controls appetite, memory, movement and pain. Because of this, it could help with many medical conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and mental health problems such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder etc.

On October 31, 2018, the NHS released a document outlining the new regulations regarding prescribing medical marijuana to some patients in the UK. They stated: “Due to the limited evidence base and their unlicensed nature, the Government has chosen to restrict the decision to prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use to only those clinicians listed on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council.”

As a result of these guidelines set out by the Government, “cannabis-based products [will only be] prescribed where there is clear published evidence of benefit. Where there is a clinical need, which cannot be met by a licensed medicine and where established treatment options have been exhausted.”

World map of medical cannabis laws [Image: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International]

Global medical cannabis laws [Wikimedia]

When it comes to using medical marijuana, countries that legalise its use remain restrictions about which specific illnesses it can be applied and still have to follow strict guidelines to align with the marijuana laws of the state or country. America is an example where marijuana: both medical and recreational is becoming legalised, as according to Business Insider, medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states.

While it is something that is legal in some states, there are still problems regarding work and school. Paytan, a 20-year-old, living in Colorado explains: “I started using medical marijuana after being diagnosed with a genetic disorder that left me with chronic daily pain. [I was left with] virtually no pain relief options outside of opioid use, which was scary given my family’s history of addiction.”

Paytan decided to get a medical marijuana card, which she has been using for pain relief. After nearly two years, she has noticed the improvements it has made to her health and mental state in general. “It’s substantially improved my pain management and leaves me without nearly any side effects, which [is something] I couldn’t ever dream of with most medications.”

While Paytan expressed her relief for having such a positive experience with medical marijuana, it has affected her in other ways that are often overlooked. “It’s definitely a challenge as it’s legalised here on a state level, but not on a federal level,” she told us. “So I can get the pain relief I need, but I am also restricted from so many jobs within my field and expertise because they drug test and I can’t pass them due to my medical marijuana use”.

Currently a full-time psychology student, Paytan is not working and with her health issues not helping, she’s been finding it difficult. “When I was working, I never disclosed my marijuana use and only worked jobs that didn’t drug test. While living [in Colorado], most people smoke recreationally and would typically understand. It’s the employers who tend to look down on those who speak publicly about it unless they’re in the cannabis business themselves.”

According to Hire Right: “Some states allow employers to prohibit the use of medical Marijuana for safety and other reasons. In these states, employers may be able to maintain a zero-tolerance drug-free workplace policy. In other states, however, they may be prohibited or restricted from taking adverse employment actions.”

When looking at the work aspect, there are still challenges being on medical marijuana. While it can be legally allowed, there are still areas where they would not allow it, psychology being one of those professions.

[pullquote]“I can get the pain relief I need, but I am also restricted from so many jobs within my field and expertise because they drug test and I can’t pass them due to my medical marijuana use.”[/pullquote]When looking at school tolerances regarding medical marijuana, it remains unclear as there remain to be missing pieces in the law. In Paytan’s case, according to the General Colorado Assembly: “Under current law, a primary caregiver may possess and administer medical marijuana in a non-smokeable form to a student while the student is at school. The bill allows a school nurse or the school nurse’s designee, who may or may not be an employee of the school, or school personnel designated by a parent to also possess and administer medical marijuana to a student at the school.”

With the existence of recreational marijuana, there is an automatic presumption that medical marijuana is the same thing, with the medicinal aspect of it being a cover. Due to this, there are still many limitations. In the UK, this is heightened, as the use of medical marijuana is extremely rare. The problem is less about the current law, but more of guidelines, created by the Royal College of Physicians and the British Paediatric Neurology Association.

Examples of these complications include a 29-year-old man with terminal cancer being denied a medical marijuana prescription to Steph and Dom, stars of the Channel Four reality show Gogglebox, who are looking to help their son to receive medical marijuana to help with his epilepsy. There are many more stories of failed attempts to get the drug prescribed, bringing the question of its existence in the first place.

CBD oil being sold over-the-counter

CBD oil being sold over-the-counter [Sinead Carroll]

Something that is more openly accessible to the public is Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD oil.

From Holland and Barrett advertising CBD in their shop windows, it is something that can be purchased over the counter. According to Healthline “it is one of the 104 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the cannabis or marijuana plant, Cannabis sativa.” 

Diluted with a carrier oil like coconut and hemp seed oil, it is a more toned down form of medical marijuana, while still carrying the medical benefits.

CBD oil has many benefits including pain relief, reducing depression and anxiety disorders, help avoid heart problems, cancer-related illnesses and other beneficial properties. For something that is currently available over-the-counter, it is a product that has changed according to UK law.

Back in the US, Amanda is a 23-year-old, who uses medical marijuana and CBD to help with anxiety, insomnia, depression, nausea, appetite and pain relief. “I’ve been smoking for four years or so before getting my medical marijuana card in 2004. It helped me ground myself and helped me figure out where I wanted to go within my life”.

[pullquote align=”right”] “NHS data suggest that one in every eleven patients in England is being prescribed medication that could be addictive, or difficult to come off. This includes sedatives, painkillers and antidepressants.” [/pullquote]About a year ago, Amanda became a budtender, where she discovered her love and passion for helping people and finding what helps them while teaching them about everything that cannabis can do. “I haven’t just benefitted from the plant itself, but it also helped me find a lot of solace in like-minded people within the cannabis community, as well as within the industry”.

With the amount of things things that medical marijuana can be beneficial for, it’s like killing two birds with one stone, while avoiding the possibility of being addicted to opioids or any other heavy form of prescribed medication.

Looking at the commonly-known and prescribed medication, the main problem of the more common drug is the countless number of side affects included. There has always been discussion on the dangers of these side effects and the long term affects it can have on a person. Common side effects include depression, anxiety, loss of appetite, weight loss/gain, extreme fatigue, etc.

Another common problem with some prescribed medication is the possibility of addiction. An article published by the BCC explained “NHS data suggest one in every eleven patients in England is being prescribed medication that could be addictive, or difficult to come off. This includes sedatives, painkillers and antidepressants.”

With this being a big problem, not only in the UK, it is understandable why some would prefer to go towards a more natural solution with less chance of becoming addicted or suffering from any major side effects.

[pullquote]“I haven’t just benefitted from the plant itself, but it also helped me find a lot of solace in like-minded people within the cannabis community, as well as within the industry.” [/pullquote]While the majority of the US has legalised medical marijuana, there are still some states where this has yet to happen. Taylor Deihl, who’s 21, lives in the US and is unable to get a medical marijuana card due to her state’s laws.

“I began using medical marijuana for my PTSD and anxiety. I often experienced night terrors that kept me from being able to get to sleep. Marijuana has given me the opportunity to get my sleeping pattern back in check, which in the long term, helps with other general problems,” she told us.

With extremely bad anxiety and depression added to the picture, medical marijuana has also been able to help her with those issues, but without being able to get a medical card in her state, she is left to find other alternatives away from medical practitioners.

“I’ve been smoking marijuana for three years now and it’s personally benefited me from not only being able to get a better nights sleep, but it has also given me enough motivation to do things that my depression and anxiety would usually hold me back from doing”, Taylor explains. “It has cured my social anxiety and helps me with frequent panic attacks.”

According to Americans for Safe Access, “despite medical cannabis laws in the 46 states, cannabis is still illegal under federal law. The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act, which does not recognise the difference between medical and recreational use of cannabis.” With the conflict between state law and federal law, it seems that there will always be a fine line between what is allowed and what isn’t.

In Taylor’s case, without a medical card, there is more danger for her regarding the law. With jobs and schools and life in general, without a medical card to fall back to, it will just be seen as recreational use instead of medical use.

The same dilemma exists in the UK, as UK law clashes with medical regulations. Only further showing how difficult it is to get prescribed medical marijuana despite it being legally allowed in the country.

Canada is another country that has recently become more lenient with marijuana use, both medical and recreational. The current law states: “Subject to provincial or territorial restrictions, adults who are 18 years of age or older are legally able to:

  • Possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis, died or equivalent in a non-dried form in public.
  • Share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults
  • Buy dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially-licensed retailer.

Canadian law states that the current regime will continue to allow access to medical marijuana for those who have authorisation from their healthcare provider.

Cannabis store in Vancouver

Cannabis store in Vancouver [Flickr:Mike]

Hillary is from Ontario and has been using medical marijuana medical for over a year now, but has been taking marijuana in general for over ten years. She uses it for chronic stomach pain and vomiting, inflammation, sleep and appetite.

“I am able to sleep fully throughout the night, which I couldn’t even image doing before as I would usually wake up every few hours. I’m also now able to keep my food down and no longer feel nauseous after eating. And the best thing is that I can now wake up in the morning with no stomach pain and inflammation.”

She says that one advantage is how much control she has over it. “I am able to pick what I want if I want it stronger or weaker depending on what I am doing in that moment of time,” Hillary says. “It’s something that couldn’t ever be done with any other type of prescribed medication.”

Canada has become the second nation to fully legalise recreational cannabis, and with the new law, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with it. It’s controlled to a certain degree regarding the amount allowed. The only problem that could possibly arise is the chance of underage children being able to get easier access to it.

With State law vs Federal law, UK law vs. medical guidelines and the public vs. government, it’s an endless clash of opinions and gaps in what is allowed and what isn’t. From hearing people’s personal experiences with the more natural form of medication, it is something that can be extremely beneficial for general health, both physical and mental.

Perhaps following Canadian law could be a step in the right direction, giving the public more choice in their forms of treatment instead of being pushed directly towards taking heavier prescription drugs with greater side effects.






Featured image by FourTwentyWorx via Flickr CC

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