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23 Oct 2018
UK Attractions

Legal Medical Cannabis in the United Kingdom: A Loud Statement for Europe

In the United Kingdom, according to the country’s 2017 drug report, 11.3 percent of their population consumes cannabis. For many years, cannabis was classified as a Class B illegal drug in the UK. However, this hasn’t stopped residents from consuming the illegal substance. Out of all substances, it turns out that cannabis is the most widely consumed illegal drug in the UK. Reasons for illegal cannabis consumption are mostly due to the plant’s medicinal and therapeutic benefits and the quality of life improvements it can deliver.

Also, cannabis is a healthy alternative to harmful drugs like tobacco, alcohol, and opioids. Although cannabis has been illegal in the UK for years, as of October of this year, the country announced the legalization of medical cannabis. Keep reading to learn about the reasons for legalizing medical cannabis in the UK, when the program will go into effect, and the impact this may have on other European countries.

Progression of Cannabis in the UK & Grassroots Movements

For several decades, cannabis was scheduled as an illegal Class B drug in the United Kingdom. In 1971, the UK banned cannabis due to fears that it would be a gateway drug and that it would lead to the usage of other dangerous drugs. Also, around that time, a significant amount of anti-cannabis propaganda was released in the U.S. and other countries. However, we are no longer living in the 1970s, and many of us are aware of noteworthy research findings about cannabis.

Fast forward to the 2000s in which clinical data, research findings, and anecdotal evidence all support the medicinal value of cannabis and its cannabinoids. Thus far, there’s evidence that demonstrates cannabis’s ability to help treat different medical conditions and diseases. Some of these conditions include epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, nausea, chronic pain, arthritis, and different forms of cancer.

For years, the UK was the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis. This is strange though due to the country’s strict classification of the plant since the 1970s. Ever since the UK placed a ban on cannabis in 1971, people have used their voices to make the public aware of this hypocrisy. Specifically, cannabis advocates, passionate parents to sick children, and numerous holistic activists created and participated in various campaigns in the UK.

The main intention of these campaigns were to raise awareness about cannabis’s medical benefits that could dramatically help people, especially those with epilepsy. The following was stated about this matter: “Campaigners had questioned how severely epileptic children could be prevented from accessing medicines that significantly improved their condition.”

Recent Cannabis Research Changes in the UK

Fortunately, as time went on, UK’s Parliament and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs decided to take a further look at cannabis’s medicinal value. This past July, the country’s advisory council expressed their interest in adjusting the rules about different cannabis products. In the same month, it was also deemed mandatory for UK’s Home Office licenses to further examine cannabis.

This was done to provide physicians the choice to prescribe cannabis-based products to qualifying patients with debilitating health issues. The same conversation held by the advisory council also discussed the necessity to perform additional clinical trials to determine the safety and efficacy of cannabis-based products.

The Legalization of Medical Cannabis in the UK: How It Came About

After the UK’s advisory board researched the cannabis plant further, they realized how medically beneficial it was. Then, UK’s Home Secretary on the advisory board, Sajid Javid was advised that medical cannabis contains medicinal and therapeutic benefits. This led to the legalization of medical cannabis in the UK with the intention to help many people in need. However, before this significant legalization move was made, several pharmaceutical cannabis-based drugs were created in the UK. These drugs are called Sativex (a sublingual cannabis-based spray) and Epidiolex (a CBD-based drug to help treat epilepsy). Both drugs were approved by UK’s government due to their ability to help treat epilepsy and other conditions.

In addition, it’s important to remember that up until very recently, cannabis oil that contained more than 0.05 percent THC was prohibited in the UK. Although cannabis contains a wide variety of medicinal and therapeutic benefits, the cannabinoid that has gained the most interest, attention, and usage lately is Cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabis itself is illegal in certain countries and U.S. states. However, in many areas, CBD is legal. This cannabinoid is non-psychoactive, non-toxic, safe, and non-addictive. After the World Health Organization announced CBD’s safety profile and non-toxic make-up, many CBD legalization changes took place.

To this day, variations of cannabis and CBD oil that contain weak concentrations of cannabinoids are sold at different pharmacies throughout the UK. Numerous people use these oils for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, especially if this is the only form of medicine they have access to. Due to the valuable research findings and clinical data that have been released in recent years though, the UK decided to move towards medical cannabis legalization.

What to Know About Medical Cannabis in the UK

Furthermore, after numerous studies and clinical trials were conducted on cannabis and its medicinal value, it became clear that cannabis shouldn’t be illegal anymore. One example of valuable research findings comes from a Cochrane system review of 23 randomized controlled trials. The trials confirmed the anti-emetic and anti-nausea properties of cannabis cannabinoids. Several other studies revealed cannabis’s efficacy in alleviating chronic pain and muscle spasms. Then, different clinical trials and studies revealed the positive impact cannabis and CBD have on helping treat epilepsy. Due to these findings and more, legalized medical cannabis in the UK has become a reality.

As early as November 1st, UK physicians will have the option to prescribe medical cannabis products to qualifying patients. According to Sajid Javid, medical cannabis prescriptions will be legally available by next month. Then, in the next few weeks, Sajid Javid will supposedly lessen the country’s current cannabis drug laws. Fortunately, these new medical cannabis legalization changes will be the same in England, Wales, and Scotland. Overall, it’s likely that Sativex and Epidiolex will be the first medicines to be prescribed by November 1st. However, it’s also likely that different cannabis oils will be available for prescriptions. Many of these may be used to help treat epilepsy and other debilitating conditions.

According to Sajid Javid, only a select number of cannabis-based products will be available for prescriptions next month. Before a cannabis product is considered medicinal though, it must meet and pass these requirements:

  • It must be a preparation or product that possesses cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol (CBN), or a CBN derivative
  • It’s created for medicinal usage to be consumed by humans
  • It’s a medical product, substance, or preparation for the consumption as either an ingredient of or in the creation of an ingredient of a medicinal product

Next Steps Regarding Legalized Medical Cannabis in the UK

The UK is behind many other European countries like Germany, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic regarding cannabis laws. However, they have taken a step in the right direction. The following was stated by Professor and medical cannabis expert Mike Barnes about this matter:

“This announcement has transformed the position of the UK in this exciting and developing field. Compared to many pharmaceutical drugs, whole plant medical cannabis products are remarkably safe and, as recent high-profile cases have shown, can produce dramatic improvements for patients.”

Currently, according to Sajid Javid, there aren’t any plans to legalize recreational cannabis in the UK. However, this could certainly change in the future. Once UK physicians begin prescribing medical cannabis to qualifying patients, they’ll be closer to the policies of other countries. Some of these countries include the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Portugal, Canada, and several U.S. states.

Overall, the legalization of medical cannabis in the UK is a monumental move. It’s also likely that this change will create a domino effect in Europe. Stay tuned to see what impact medical cannabis will have on the UK, England, Wales, and Scotland next month. Which European country will legalize medical cannabis next? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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