Another Pack Of Lies On Cannabis From The UK Government.
Yet another cannabis petition amongst hundreds of similar pleas was filed earlier this autumn. This one though is more tightly focused on removing cannabis from schedule 1, which defines it as having no medicinal value. The petition is also commendably concise but characterises itself as a ‘demand‘ that cannabis be rescheduled, an unfortunate choice of words.
Nevertheless, congratulations are due in that it has exceeded the threshold of 10,000 signatures which means the government must respond. That response is now in and it is predictably dishonest, dismissive and authoritarian in its tone. The Home Office has responsibility for drugs policy so it has drafted the response but it surely must have consulted with the Department of Health.
In fact, I was told only this week by a senior minister that “… the search into the medicinal use of cannabis is something that falls within the jurisdiction of the Department of Health.” That may be a subtle shift in policy from which we can draw some hope. But I fear that the response to this petition offers no hope at all. It is stubborn, obstinate, inaccurate and in denial of evidence and experience.
To be clear, the Home Office has been systematically lying and misleading the British people about cannabis for at least 50 years. The Department of Health is timid on the issue, leaves the public statements to the Home Office heavies and seems more interested in generating fee income for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), than in actually treating patients effectively.
I analyse the response paragraph by paragraph.
“Herbal cannabis is listed in Schedule 1 as a drug with no recognised medicinal uses outside research. A substantial body of scientific evidence shows it is harmful and can damage human health.”
By far the majority of scientists and doctors now recognise that cannabis has real and significant medicinal uses. Of course it is possible that cannabis can cause harm, as can any substance. However, there is no scientific evidence that shows cannabis as being any more harmful than over-the-counter medicines or many common foods. Professor Les Iversen, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, is on the record saying: “cannabis is a safer drug than aspirin and can be used long term without serious side effects”.
“The Government will not encourage the use of a Schedule 1 controlled drug based on anecdotal evidence. It is important that a medicine is very thoroughly trialled to ensure it meets rigorous standards before being licensed and placed on the market so that doctors and patients are sure of its efficacy and safety. “
It is not the government’s role to encourage the use of any drug as medicine, that is the role of a doctor. Only by removing cannabis from schedule 1 can that decision be placed in doctors’ hands. There is a vast quantity of peer-reviewed, published scientific evidence on the medicinal use of cannabis including human clinical trials. It is false to suggest that only anecdotal evidence is available. See ‘Medicinal Cannabis: The Evidence’. Thousands of doctors and millions of patients are sure of the efficacy and safety of cannabis based on existing research, trials and experience. Many commonly prescribed medicines have nowhere near as much evidence behind them as cannabis.
“Cannabis in its raw form (herbal cannabis) is not recognised as having any medicinal purposes in the UK. There is already a clear regime in place to enable medicines (including those containing controlled drugs) to be developed and subsequently prescribed and supplied to patients via healthcare professionals. This regime is administered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which issues Marketing Authorisations for drugs that have been tried and tested for their safety and efficacy as medicines in the UK.”
The lack of recognition for the medicinal purposes of cannabis is a grave error with no evidence that supports it. Cannabis is a traditional medicine which recorded history shows has been used safely and effectively for at least 5,000 years. The only thing that stands in the way of cannabis being prescribed by doctors is its schedule 1 status. The MHRA is a diversion and is irrelevant. It exists to trial and regulate new medicines and requires a £100,000 application fee before very costly clinical trials take place. This is an unnecessary obstacle to a traditional medicine which contains more than 400 compounds. The MHRA process is designed for potentially dangerous, single molecule drugs and is not applicable to cannabis.
“It is up to organisations to apply for Marketing Authorisation for products that they believe have potential medicinal purposes so that these can be subject to the same stringent regime and requirements that all medicines in the UK are subjected to.”
Many substances and drugs which have medicinal purposes are regulated either as Traditional Herbal Products or food supplements. It is the schedule 1 status of cannabis which prevents it being regulated and controlled in this way which is far more appropriate given its very low potential for harm and the very wide range of conditions for which it can be useful.
“Since 2010 UK patients can use the cannabis-based medicine ‘Sativex’ for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. ‘Sativex’ can also be prescribed for other conditions at the prescribing doctor’s risk. ‘Sativex’ was rigorously tested for its safety and efficacy before receiving approval, and is distinguished from cannabis in its raw form. It is a spray which is standardised in composition, formulation and dose and developed to provide medicinal benefits without a psychoactive effect. Due to its low psychoactive profile ‘Sativex’ was rescheduled from Schedule 1 and placed in Schedule 4 Part 1 to enable its availability for use in healthcare in the UK.”
Sativex is a massively expensive form of cannabis oil which is not prescribed because of its cost. It is at least 10 times the price of Bedrocan medicinal cannabis as regulated by the Netherlands government which could be immediately made available in the UK. It is a deliberate falsehood to claim that Sativex does not have a psychoactive effect. The statutory document ‘Summary of Product Characteristics’ describes “euphoric mood” as a “common” side effect. The scheduling of Sativex in schedule 4 is a deception requiring 75 words falsely to distinguish it from other forms of cannabis whereas every other drug in every other schedule requires just one word.
“The MHRA is open to considering marketing approval applications for other medicinal cannabis products should a product be developed. As happened in the case of ‘Sativex’, the Home Office will also consider issuing a licence to enable trials of new medicines to take place under the appropriate ethical approvals. “
Cannabis, which contains 400 + compounds is not suitable for MHRA regulation which is designed for single molecule drugs which are potentially dangerous. There is no significant danger from the use of cannabis when prescribed by a doctor. This is already well established in scientific evidence and the referral to the MHRA is a diversion and an excuse for failing simply to put the decision in doctors’ hands.
“In view of the potential harms associated with the use of cannabis in its raw form and the availability of avenues for medicinal development, the Government does not consider it appropriate to make changes to the control status of raw or herbal cannabis. “
The government has offered no evidence of the potential harms to which it gives such weight. No “development” of cannabis is required. It is a traditional medicine consisting of the dried flowers of the cannabis plant.
“The Government’s view is that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and regulations made under the Act continue to facilitate the development of medicines which are made from Schedule 1 controlled drugs. The legislation is aimed at protecting the public from the potential harms of drugs and is not an impediment to research into these drugs or development of medicines.”
The government’s view is intransigent and as demonstrated by this response is ignorant of the available evidence. This response reinforces the government’s clear intention not to consider the evidence and simply to deny it. The evidence shows that the potential harms of cannabis as medicine are trivial and inconsequential. If its schedule 1 status was not an impediment to research, there would already be a great deal more research into cannabis as medicine.
“In 2013 the Home Office undertook a scoping exercise targeted at a cross-section of the scientific community, including the main research bodies, in response to concerns from a limited number of research professionals that Schedule 1 status was generally impeding research into new drugs.
Our analysis of the responses confirmed a high level of interest, both generally and at institution level, in Schedule 1 research. However, the responses did not support the view that Schedule 1 controlled drug status impedes research in this area. While the responses confirmed Home Office licensing costs and requirements form part of a number of issues which influence decisions to undertake research in this area, ethics approval was identified as the key consideration, while the next most important consideration was the availability of funding.”
The Home Office is entirely untrustworthy and dishonest on anything to do with cannabis. Researchers, scientists, doctors and those already using cannabis as medicine simply do not trust anything it says on the subject based on long experience of its calculated dishonesty and misinformation.