LibLink: Baroness Sally Hamwee: It is time to legalise Cannabis for medicinal purposes”

Sally Hamwee has been writing for Politics Home about her attempts to have Cannabis legalised for medicinal use.  She firstly outlined the need:

Medicinal herbal cannabis is very effective for many people (not all) suffering from some very severe and debilitating conditions, the spasms and cramps associated with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord damage, Parkinson’s Disease and some of the symptoms of cancer and of the treatment of cancer among them.

It is available in 23 states of the USA, Canada, Israel and Netherlands from where it is exported to several other countries of the EU.  But not – legally – the UK.  The Dutch have used genetic alteration to maximise the benign content and eliminate the dangerous, psychosis-inducing component.

No wonder that so many British people go to great lengths to go abroad to get hold of it.  The cannabis-based drug licensed in England is much more expensive and only prescribed on a “named basis” as NICE regards it as not cost-effective (it is approved in Wales).

And then she outlined how both Conservatives and Labour in the House of Lords wouldn’t accept her ideas:

I had no expectation that our amendments (I have tried twice, at different stages of the Bill) would make any progress, though some powerful voices were raised in support.  I did not argue that cannabis should go from illegal to unlicensed, unregulated use overnight, but rather that for the purpose of prescribing it should have the same classification as heroin. The Labour front bench were non-committal and “unconvinced”.

The Minister relied on “clear scientific evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health, and which can have a pernicious effect on communities”, and emphasised the need for an evidence base.  I don’t dispute that, though whether the British are significantly different physiologically from the Dutch, I do wonder.  And when the Government’s whole Bill seems to be based on evidence which, at best, is being questioned, this is particularly ironic.  The issue won’t go away – but I am sorry not to have been able at this point to advance the cause of those whose suffering could to some extent be alleviated.

You can read Sally’s whole article here.


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  • Passing through 22nd Jul '15 - 2:03pm

    Personally I have no issue with legalising cannabis for recreational use.

    Saying that though, the medicinal argument is a bit of a red herring, where a cannabinoid is scientifically proven to be effective a more mainstream pharmaceutical approach is preferable. There are already companies developing and delivering prescription cannabinoid medicines for a range of conditions such as the British company GWPharma

    Smoking plants is not an optimal drug delivery system; the doses vary widely , there are numerous side-effects and the approach itself is carcinogenic. All the basic arguments which saw modern medicine supplant herbalism in the first place.

    Legalise recreationally for sure, there is no need to muddy the argument with scientifically dubious medical claims, where cannabinoids could be useful safer alternatives exist or soon will do.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Jul '15 - 3:05pm

    Police helicopters could be replaced by drones. Add heat-seeking equipment and find unoccupied houses with all the curtains drawn. Inside there may be huge numbers of powerful lights heating cannabis plants and maybe one person, at the bottom of the hierarchy in a criminal organisation, but afraid to inform on others.
    Modern strains of cannabis are many times stronger than previously.

  • I agree with ‘passing through’:
    I think extracts of the active chemicals from cannabis resin have been available for many years. There is absolutely no rationale for smoking cannabis for health purposes. Smoke, by its very nature contains a wide range of partly oxidised products that inevitably contain significant carcinogens. The obvious delivery system would be an aerosol inhaler of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).

  • David Faggiani 22nd Jul '15 - 3:50pm

    Legalise Cannabis, full stop. But, baby steps I suppose….

  • Disagree with you on that, David Faggiani. It needs some restrictions around use: in short – ingestion good, smoking bad. I like Martin’s inhaler system suggestion.

    Smoking cannabis forces others around you to consume it too. People you share a home with or who live in the same block of flats. People who have not consented to do so. The stuff permeates like crazy.

    I always get confused about which is the “positive liberty” and which the “negative liberty”, but where the two cannot be reconciled I’m pretty sure my freedom not to consume a drug should trump others’ freedom to do so.

  • Martin Land 22nd Jul '15 - 5:26pm

    We need a consistent approach to drugs. Legalise Cannabis or ban alcohol and tobacco.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Jul '15 - 10:19pm

    Walking up the street in Ladbroke Grove, London, the smelll of the stuff was coming out of semi-basement flats.
    All the police needed to do was knock on the door/s.
    If they did not perhaps they were short-staffed, perhaps they did not care.

  • Everyone who has commented that a purified medical product is preferable to smoking random plant material seems to have missed the point that such purified product either simply isnt on offer because of restrictions, or is vastly more expensive than raw plant. If you intend to make cannabis medical products readily available over the counter as are aspirin (and at similar prices), that would be well and good, but I dont think that alternative is being proposed?

    The long and the short of it, is that cannabis is not really dangerous and can be well managed by individuals left to their own choices. This is especially true if the public has access to standardised comercially produced product. Somehow a pretty harmless recreation became demonised and outlawed, and anyone who takes the view that people should not be allowed free choice in such matters, isnt interested in scientific reasoned argument. Banning medical cannabis, frankly, is barbaric. I don’t really understand how anyone can dispute that.

  • This is mad stuff. I very firmly believe in legalisation, but claiming cannabis is a viable medical treatment is pure quackery. Some of the compounds in cannabis may have medicinal uses in terms of pain relief but to claim they can treat cancer is not just misguided, but profoundly dangerous.

  • Danny

    Everyone who has commented that a purified medical product is preferable to smoking random plant material seems to have missed the point that such purified product either simply isnt on offer because of restrictions, or is vastly more expensive than raw plant. If you intend to make cannabis medical products readily available over the counter as are aspirin (and at similar prices), that would be well and good, but I dont think that alternative is being proposed?

    If they are to be sold as pharmaceutical drugs, then they have to pass the burden of proof for efficacy and safety that all other medical products do.

    Very few compounds derived from cannabis have passed these tests.

    Smoking cannabis puts you at a massively increased risk of cancer, heart disease and other illnesses compared to not-smoking. How can you possibly argue that medical use should be allowed for the herbal product with these risks, and no proof of efficacy?

  • I have to disagree with Passing Through.

    GW Pharma’s flagship product, Sativex, contains whole-plant extracts from two strains of cannabis, and contains a full cannabinoid, flavonoid, and terpenoid profile. It is nothing more than over-priced and glorified cannabis oil. One can stick it in a bottle with a shiney label and a flashy box and call it a pharmaceutical product all day long, but this doesn’t make it so.

    With regards to the comment about ‘smoking plants not being an optimal drug delivery system’, I’d suggest you ask the patients who administer cannabis via the lung daily. It is far easier to titrate dose via this method of delivery, and relief comes on almost instantly. When cannabis medications are administered orally (cannabis infused edibles / medibles, as well as with Sativex in part), any present THC is metabolised by the liver into a compound known as 11-Hydroxy-THC, which is reportedly up to three times more potent. This statement also completely ignores the use of vaporizers, which deliver vaporized medicinal compounds straight from herbal cannabis, retaining all of the beneficial compounds necessary for the entourage effect to take hold. This method of delivery also eliminates any carcinogenic potential posed by combusted material. Vaporizer technology has been around for years now, it’s nothing new, one popular model known as the Volcano is a recognised medical device both in the EU and Canada.

    Chris Coomer, co. Decriminalise it – Jersey / Cannabis, The Science Behind The Magic (Facebook)

  • In response to g, have you looked at GW Pharma’s patents ? They have patents regarding the “anti-tumoural” effects of Cannabinoid combinations, particularly THC and CBD. So it’s far from quackery.

    Also, thank you to Baroness Hamwee, for pushing for reform regarding medical cannabis. It will help so many sick people.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '15 - 8:20pm

    David Wallace: i spent more than a year canvassing in a target seat in euro-elections and general election, almost every day. Cannabis was not mentioned once.

  • Tommy

    Drug companies patent at an early stage because this is why they do, why spend Bns developing a compound you don’t own the rights too? But most compounds don’t make it out of basic research, let alone Phase I trials.

    THC and CBD may have effects in cell culture experiments, many compounds do that turn out not to work when given to living organisms. Thus far, there are no human trials on the use of these as anti-cancer drugs because they have not passed the basic research hurdles necessary to justify the expense of these trials.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Jul '15 - 9:43am

    David Wallace 24th Jul ’15 – 8:18am i have read that gays are “born that way”.
    Using narcotics is a matter of choice. Even heroin users can come off using it by gradually reduced doses.
    The real problem is the undelying lifestyle. A pity Billie Holiday did not.

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