Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
Would that we were in spring looking forward to a splendid summer. Instead, in mid-July we are heading into autumn towards what looks like a stern, drab and ominous future. Theresa May is prime minister, perhaps the worst nightmare for those who seek cannabis law reform.
You have to admire her first few days though. What you see is what you get. She is smart, calculated and very, very certain about the nature of the government she will lead. I have no doubt she has a softer, caring side and there is testimony to that effect from those who support her. She is a strong woman, she will be sympathetic to people and causes that she chooses but ruthless and absolute against those she opposes. Our problem is that, as confirmed by both the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, evidence has nothing to do with it. Theresa May’s drugs policy is based on her personal opinions and even the plight of those in chronic pain and disability is unlikely to change her mind even on the medicinal use of cannabis. I remember Norman Baker told me that she simply does not comprehend that cannabis can be a legitimate medicine. The very idea is anathema to her. It is beyond her comprehension. The daughter of a vicar, who attended a convent then a grammar school, she has a lot about her that suggests piety, reserve, self-discipline and control. Admirable qualities but lacking perhaps in empathy with modern lifestyles and values.
But this is a fresh start. Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, is cast from the same mould as Ms May. My MP, Oliver Letwin, himself disposed of in the new cabinet, has already written to Ms Rudd and asked her to see me. As of today, CLEAR represents nearly 700,000 registered supporters, equivalent to the electorate in more than eight parliamentary constituencies, so I think she has a good reason to give me a few minutes. I will continue to press for a meeting until she or one of her junior ministers agrees to see me.
It can only help that I am now a fully paid-up member of the Conservative Party. I made this decision shortly after the EU referendum and I have also joined the Conservative Policy Forum which works to influence Conservative Party policy from the grassroots. I will be advancing the cause of medicinal cannabis and wider drugs policy reform as quickly and effectively as I can through the party’s established channels. Whether it is a short or long game, it has to get started now.
I do believe this is the best way forward for the cannabis campaign. I will work from within the party of government to try and influence change. It is more than likely that the Tories will be in power for the next 10 years, if not more. Now is the time to get involved, face our opposition, engage with those who have power. Every other UK political party is in disarray.
When we relaunched the Legalise Cannabis Alliance as CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform in 2011, we brought a totally new, professional approach to the campaign. Others have followed and there is now a significant group that understands how to use professional lobbying techniques. The greatest achievement of this has been to get the Liberal Democrats involved and although there remains great resistance amongst party members in the shires, the leadership is very much onside. Sadly, the party itself is as far away from power as it has ever been and, in my view, has swung widely off course in a futile and misguided effort to reverse the referendum result. Such whimsical strategies have always been the LibDems’ problem. Unless a political revolution suddenly makes Corbyn a serious contender then there will be no other party in power but the Tories. This is where we must invest time, effort and all our resources. We must understand how to turn Tory aims, ambitions and viewpoints to our advantage. Which arguments will work and how do we get them across?
Although we now have a more professional campaign and several individuals with real ability, now is not the time to revert to talking amongst ourselves. Conferences, meetings, documentary films and events are all very well but they almost exclusively preach to the choir. Just like the demos and protests that have at last ebbed away, they make those involved feel good and they ramp up morale but they do little to create change. This is no way to make progress. I will ensure that CLEAR is on the front line. It is those who oppose us that we need to be talking to, not those who already agree with us.
At the same time, specifically on medicinal cannabis, our focus must be on the medical profession. We published ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’ just over a year ago and it has added real credibility to the campaign. In a few weeks when the APPG for Drug Policy Reform publishes its report on medicinal cannabis, Professor Mike Barnes will release his own review of current evidence and it will become the definitive work on the subject. CLEAR will be taking this to GPs all over the country, to the Royal Colleges and particularly to those working in pain management. We already know that thousands of doctors endorse their patients’ use of cannabis for chronic pain, it is time to bring this out of the closet. Doctors and nurses have literally been terrorised into keeping quiet about cannabis. We have first hand knowledge of Home Office officials warning off doctors who have tried to assist their patients by prescribing Sativex off label or recommending Bedrocan. This must stop. We must equip the medical profession with the evidence it needs to be able to do the best by its patients.
I know many will be downhearted by this new government but change is always a good thing. It offers us the opportunity to renew our campaign. Most important, we must walk towards the enemy, not hide in our bunkers, fearful of their response. All over the world, mainstream opinion is turning in favour of cannabis as medicine and wider drugs policy reform. Now is the time to step forward, to do all we can to educate and inform those who are still in the dark. I have set out above what CLEAR’s new strategy will be. Please join us. Become a member. Sign up here. Your first duty? Make an appointment to see your MP. This is the most effective thing you can do. We will publish new guidance in the next few days on how to prepare for and conduct these meetings.
In the last couple of years, even the Daily Mail has shifted its stance on cannabis as it sees opportunities to sensationalise ‘miracle cures’ from medicinal use – the epileptic child now smiling, the cancer patient whose tumour has disappeared. Truth and balance are irrelevant when a dramatic headline is all you’re after.
The Daily Telegraph has become the new home of ‘reefer madness’ with bad science, nasty prejudice and booze-fuelled fear of a safer recreational drug threatening the massive profits of the alcohol industry.
Now, even the Guardian jumps on the ‘skunk scaremongering’ bandwagon with the exaggerated claim that “the risks of heavy teenage cannabis consumption should frighten all of us”. In a backhanded editorial it suggests legalisation because cannabis is dangerous. It claims the consequences of cannabis “abuse are devastating. Psychotic breakdowns smash up lives and can lead to full-blown schizophrenia.” There is little evidence to support such hysteria. In reality, such effects are so rare as to be virtually unheard of and it’s impossible to prove they are caused by cannabis.
Of course we must protect young people, particularly from the high-THC/low-CBD ‘moonshine’ varieties that are a direct result of government policy. However, we cannot compromise facts and evidence for the illusory belief that buying into scare stories will somehow reduce harm. The only way to protect children is by legal regulation with mandatory age limits.
The Guardian makes much of Public Health England’s (PHE) figure that “there are more than 13,000 under-18s in treatment for the consequences of heavy cannabis use in England”. It neglects to mention that PHE also publishes more than 69% are referred by the criminal justice, education and social care systems while only 17% are referred from healthcare and just 11% by themselves or their family. Thus, more than two-thirds are receiving coercive treatment and only 11% actually consider they have a problem.
It is government propaganda that thousands of young people are suffering from mental health problems due to cannabis. Why is The Guardian promoting this myth? Last year, in answer to a Parliamentary question, Jane Ellison MP, minister of state at the Department of Health, revealed there have been average of just over 28 ‘finished admission episodes’ (FAE) for ‘cannabis-induced psychosis’ in young people for each of the past five years.
Of course, each of these 28 cases is a tragedy for the people involved and nothing must distract from that but it clearly shows that in public health terms, ‘cannabis psychosis’ is of negligible significance. To put it into perspective, there are an estimated 3,000 FAEs for peanut allergy each year but we don’t waste £500 million pa on futile law enforcement efforts to ban peanuts!
For 50 years, the Home Office has systematically misled and misinformed the British people about cannabis. Successive generations of young people know they have been lied to. Such dishonest health information is counterproductive. As a result, many children may think that heroin or crack are not as harmful as they have been told.
Cannabis is not harmless but neither is it ‘dangerous’. If you apply that description to it you also have to apply it to energy drinks, over-the-counter painkillers and hay fever remedies. Similarly, whatever scaremongering there is about ‘addiction’, the scientific evidence is that dependency amongst regular cannabis users is slightly less than caffeine dependency amongst regular coffee drinkers – and withdrawal symptoms are similar in nature and intensity.
What we need is evidence-based policy. Government needs to take responsibility for the £6 billion pa cannabis market instead of abandoning our young people and communities to street dealers and criminal gangs. The benefits to be gained from cannabis law reform are reduced health and social harms, massive public expenditure savings, increased tax revenue and proper protection for the vulnerable, including children.
Young people’s statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS), Public Health England, December 2015
Drugs: Young People. Department of Health written question – answered on 20th March 2015.
Relative Addictiveness of Drugs, Dr. Jack E. Henningfield, NIDA and Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, UCLA, 1994
CLEAR has formed a partnership with the research arm of GroGlo, a UK-based manufacturer of high power, LED, horticultural grow lighting.
The plan is to grow cannabis under a Home Office licence for the production of cannabis oil, both as a dietary supplement and for the development of medical products. To begin with, a low-THC crop of industrial hemp will be planted. We will be using the finola strain, originally developed in Finland and known for its short stature and early flowering. Unlike hemp grown for fibre, finola is usually grown for seed and only reaches a height of 160 – 180 cm but we will be removing male plants before they produce pollen and cultivating the female plants to produce the maximum yield of oil from their flowering tops.
The low-THC oil will be marketed as a dietary supplement, commonly known as CBD oil. There is already a burgeoning market in the UK for CBD products, all of which is currently imported from Europe or the USA. In the USA, the CBD products market was said to be worth $85 million in 2015 so there is huge potential here at home. Aside from the benefit of being UK grown and processed, we anticipate achieving a CBD concentration of about 40%, which is higher than most products already on the market.
Cultivation will be in glasshouses supplemented with LED lighting. GroGlo already has an established glasshouse facility in the east of England. Initial trials will experiment with adjusting the LED technology to provide a changing blend of light wavelengths at different stages of plant growth. This is GroGlo’s area of expertise -combining LED lighting and plant sciences, including existing relationships with some of Europe’s top universities. Professor Mick Fuller, GroGlo’s director of plant science, will lead this research and development process.
During the R&D phase, CO2 extraction of oil will be carried out under laboratory conditions at universities in York and Nottingham which already have extensive experience of the process. Each crop will be measured for yield, cannabinoid and terpene content using high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC). Safety testing will also look for the presence of heavy metals and other contaminants. The results of testing will be fed back into cultivation and extraction processes to maximise yield and quality.
It is anticipated that the first batches of low-THC oil will be ready for market in six months. We are already in discussions with potential distributors and wholesalers. The CBD market in the UK is ripe for an effective marketing campaign which could build a very substantial business for whoever gets it right.
Once we are successfully achieving our production goals with low-THC cannabis, the same testing and development process will begin with high-THC varieties of cannabis. The aim will be to produce a range of oils extracted from single strains, selectively bred and stabilised for different THC:CBD ratios.
Professor Fuller says that GroGlo lighting products “are in use worldwide to grow a range of crops, but some 60% of sales currently come from overseas users growing cannabis for legitimate medical use.” He explains that there is an emerging market for all sorts of nutritional and medicinal plant products but cannabis shows particular promise. GW Pharmaceuticals is the only UK company to enter this market and it has become a world leader, despite the current restrictive legislation. He says: “Together with CLEAR we believe we can help bring a range of safe, high quality UK-produced cannabis products to market within a matter of two to three years.”
A key issue in the development of a successful medicinal cannabis product is the method of delivery. Smoking is not an acceptable solution as inhaling the products of combustion is an unhealthy practice but one of the great benefits of cannabis smoked as medicine is very accurate self-titration. That is the effects of inhaled cannabis are felt almost instantly and so the patient knows when they have taken enough or when they need more to achieve the required analgesic effect.
The oral mucosal spray developed for Sativex is unpopular with patients, many complain of mouth sores from its use and it was developed at least as much with the objective of deterring ‘recreational’ use of the product as with delivering the medicine effectively. It strangles the therapeutic benefits of the cannabis oil of which Sativex is composed in order to comply with the concerns of the medicines regulators about ‘diversion’ of the product into what they would term ‘misuse’. Absorption of the oil is quicker through the mucous membranes of the inside of the mouth than through the gastrointestinal system but, inevitably, some of the oil is swallowed and the pharmacology of cannabis when processed through the gut and the liver is very different.
We believe the best option is a vapouriser device and our intention is to source a ‘vape pen’ of sufficient quality to operate within clinical standards of consistency and safety. Vapourising cannabis oil avoids inhaling the products of combustion but still enables accurate self-titration of dose. A vape pen would provide a handy, convenient and very effective method of consuming medicinal cannabis. However, aside from the technology itself, initial research shows that vapour is more effectively produced when the oil is blended with either vegetable glycerin (VG) or propylene glycol (PG). Establishing the correct ratio of VG or PG to the oil is another important task.
We anticipate that clinical trials for the use of cannabis oil in treating chronic pain could start within two years. We want to compare different oils, ranging from high-CBD to equal ratios of THC:CBD and high-THC content. Prior to that we have to overcome the challenges of cultivation, oil extraction, vapouriser development and assemble the necessary research team and gain ethical approval for the trials. Recruitment for the trials will start in about 18 months time. If you wish to be considered please email ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ with brief details of your condition (no more than 100 words). Do not expect to hear anything for at least 12 months but your details will be passed to the research team as a potential candidate.
CLEAR is promoting this venture simply because someone needs to do something to make this happen. For all the campaigning and lobbying of MPs and ministers, at the end of the day, the plants have to be grown and the various legislative hoops have to be jumped through. We cannot wait any longer for a radical change in the law. We have to progress through the government’s regulatory regime if we want to bring real therapeutic benfit to patients.
This opportunity arises because of the vision of GroGlo’s managing director, Mike Harlington and the team of experts he has built around him. There is huge demand for legitimate medicinal cannabis products in the UK which is only going to increase with the inevitable progress towards law reform and increasing awareness of the benefits of cannabis. Together, CLEAR and GroGlo are bringing the great hope that medicinal cannabis offers closer to reality than ever before.
In five years, CLEAR has transformed the UK cannabis campaign from a ragtag group of protestors into a coherent, science and evidence-based strategy. New groups pursuing similar, responsible advocacy have emerged such as the United Patients Alliance (UPA) and most recently End Our Pain (#EndOurPain). In the last three years, in government and Parliament, there has been more liaison between the campaign, ministers and senior politicians than in the last 50 years. The Liberal Democrats have formally adopted policies which are almost identical to those enshrined in CLEAR’s aims and objectives.
Fundamental to CLEAR’s work has been the publication of evidence and the development of plans based on consultation with consumers, patients, doctors, scientists, academics and other experts.
These three publications form the basis for all our work. Please download them, read them, share them and use them as widely as you can. Together they defeat all the arguments for the continuing ban on cannabis.
The most authoritative, independent, expert research on the UK cannabis market by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit, commissioned by CLEAR in 2011.
This is the second version of a plan for the regulation of the cannabis supply chain in Britain. This version was published on 18th October 2013
The most up-to-date, comprehensive analysis of the evidence on the safety and efficacy of cannabis as medicine. Focuses on Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, chronic pain, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Published April 2015.
The Liberal Democrats are doing great work on advancing the cause of cannabis law reform. Their policy proposals are sensible and their arguments for change are irrefutable but they are wrong to buy into and sustain the myths and scaremongering that have dominated the cannabis debate for so long.
Cannabis does not cause psychosis. Stronger strains do not present serious health risks. Memory loss is not a significant issue and no issue at all in comparison to the health harms of alcohol or tobacco. Cannabis cannot be described as dangerous unless you also apply that word to hay fever remedies, over-the-counter painkillers and energy drinks. There is not and never has been any scientific evidence to support these myths.
Of course, we must be sensitive to people’s fears and concerns. For more than 50 years the British people have been fed a stream of lies and exaggeration by the tabloid media. The Home Office, right up to today, is engaged in a systematic and deliberate policy to mislead and misinform on cannabis. Shocking though that fact is, this policy transcends successive governments and continues irrespective of ministers’ views. It clearly emanates from dishonest and corrupt officials who are determined to pursue their own agenda, irrespective of truth or concern for the massive harms and cost of cannabis prohibition.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP and health spokesperson, who is leading the party’s campaign, is a brave, sincere and conscientious politician. One of the few in Westminster that matches up to the high standards of probity and wisdom that we should be able to expect from all MPs. Similarly, Nick Clegg, former leader, and Tim Farron, current leader, have spoken out strongly on the need to reform the law. Now is the time for them also to start telling the truth about cannabis, about how its dangers have been vastly exaggerated, how for adults, in moderation, it can actually be very beneficial and far preferable as a choice of relaxant to alcohol. Indeed, if people substituted cannabis for some of their alcohol consumption, it would be a public health revolution. It would save the NHS billions and transform the health of our society.
The cannabis campaign will not succeed unless we tell the truth. We cannot compromise facts and evidence for the illusory belief that buying into the scare stories will somehow advance the cause. We need to push back at the scaremongering, acknowledge there are risks but that they are extremely small. They really only apply to use by children or to behaviour that is analogous to a ‘white cider drinker’. Consume anything to excess, regularly, without a break, without regard to other aspects of life and it will cause harm but even then, cannabis will cause less harm than any other substance.
As for children, one of the main aims of reform must be to minimise underage use. Even then, the scare story that cannabis is causing significant mental health problems amongst young people is untrue. The Department of Health’s own data shows that in the last five years, there has been an average of just 28 episodes per year of care for ‘cannabis psychosis’ in young people. 28 individual tragedies but an insignificant problem in public health terms.
The misuse of the term ‘skunk’ is also unhelpful. The Channel 4 ‘Drugs Live’ debacle last year was based on reckless, irresponsible overdosing of inexperienced users by a scientist who should know better. All the time calling the cannabis was called ‘skunk’ when it is a matter of fact that it was silver haze as grown by Bedrocan, the Netherlands’ government producer of medicinal cannabis. Skunk is actually the name of one particular cannabis strain and not an especially strong one. Cannabis is available in Britain that is twice, sometimes three times as potent as skunk but the word has been selected and promoted by the tabloid press because of its obvious, sensationalist, negative connotations.
Thank you to the Liberal Democrats for the fantastic work they are doing. All we need now is a little adjustment and focus on truth rather than scare stories.
If you want something slightly less psychoactive than poppers, I suggest you try a crack pipe.
Seriously, poppers produce an instantaneous high as powerful and intense as anything I have ever known. Cannabis, alcohol, even cocaine are mild and gentle compared to the rush that you get from inhaling the vapour from a bottle of poppers. Maybe crack or crystal meth are stronger. I don’t claim knowledge at that extreme end of drugs experiences.
It’s well established fact that successive UK governments are dishonest and corrupt on drugs policy. You cannot trust anything the Home Office says about drugs. The reality of the policies of both Labour and Tory governments is that they maximise harm and cause enormous damage to our society as well as individuals.
The announcement today that poppers are to be excluded from the Psychoactive Substances Act because they are ‘not psychoactive’ is as ludicrous a statement as ever made by any government anywhere. See minister Karen Bradley’s announcement here.
The Psychoactive Substances Act is universally recognised as the most ridiculous and scientifically-illiterate legislation ever passed by Parliament – universal that is with the exception of the slippery fools that sit in the House of Commons. Most of them have no idea at all of what they are doing on drugs policy and their only concern is to appease the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the hysteria drummed up by the prohibition lobby. However, when one of their own, Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate, complains about his drug of choice being banned, in record time the Home Office has obtained fake scientific advice and reversed its decision to ban poppers. Meanwhile, benign, largely beneficial, mild and virtually harmless cannabis remains banned, even for those in desperate need to relieve their pain, suffering and disability.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think poppers should be banned. They are known as a sex aid amongst gay men as they relax the anal sphincter, enabling easier ‘backdoor’ sex. There’s a good argument that this helps to prevent injury and therefore infection but they are also an intense sexual stimulant. I can confirm they are great fun for straight sex too.
I’m very pleased that Crispin Blunt will continue to have access to his drug of choice and I have no argument with him at all. He is an MP who is on the record as supporting cannabis law reform, particularly for medicinal use. It’s the sickening, dishonest and corrupt conduct of Home Office ministers that must be condemned.
I’d like to see the craven fools at the Home Office take a big whack off a bottle of poppers and then say they aren’t psychoactive. Black is white and pigs fly over Marsham Street when it comes to drugs.