A report commissioned by British politicians from a coalition of different parties has concluded that there is “good evidence” that medical marijuana can help treat a range of conditions, including chronic pain and nausea resulting from chemotherapy. According to the study, cannabis is not only highly effective at alleviating symptoms, but it also produces fewer undesirable side effects than many currently available pharmaceuticals.
Marijuana contains compounds like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system, producing a range of effects including the numbing of pain. In recent years, 24 US states and 11 European counties have relaxed their laws on medical marijuana in order to make it available to those that need it.
In the UK, cannabis remains a schedule 1 substance, meaning it is illegal to possess. However, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform is now calling for marijuana to be downgraded to schedule 4, which would allow doctors to prescribe it and pharmacies to distribute it. Such a policy change could also make it legal for people to grow small amounts of the drug for their own medicinal use.
The group commissioned neurologist Mike Barnes to conduct a review of the existing academic literature regarding the efficacy and safety of medical marijuana, which amounts to over 20,000 scientific papers. In his write up, he concludes that there is “good evidence” that the drug is a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain, spasticity, anxiety, and several other conditions. He also says there is “moderate evidence” that marijuana can be used to alleviate sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Chronic pain is among the conditions that medical marijuana is most commonly used to treat. fizkes/Shutterstock
In conjunction with this, the group also interviewed 623 patients and medical professionals with experience of using medical marijuana. Of these, 26 percent said they used the drug to alleviate anxiety, while 24 percent took if for chronic pain, with 86 percent claiming it provided “great relief” from their symptoms, and 90 percent experiencing virtually no side effects.
Many of those who took part in the study said they already illegally use marijuana to self-medicate. According to the authors, it is estimated that anywhere between 30,000 and 1 million people in the UK currently secretly use cannabis to treat their own disorders, which places a huge amount of money in the hands of criminal organizations. By legalizing and regulating this market, however, the researchers say the government can take control of the sale of weed, generating funds for itself while weakening criminal groups.
Yet the report does also advise caution, claiming that abusing marijuana can lead to addiction, while also pointing out that the drug can hinder the neurodevelopment of young people by interfering with the growth of their brains.