According to the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board, the UK is the world’s largest producer of medicinal cannabis, cultivating a whopping 95 tonnes of it in 2016 – that’s almost 50% of the total medicinal cannabis grown through the world.
It is ironic, therefore that with so much medical cannabis being produced, it is so difficult for people to get it when they need it. In fact, although it has been almost six months since the laws changed in the UK, allowing doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis to some patients, there are still many who could benefit from it, yet still cannot get it.
What is Medical Cannabis?
The cannabis plant has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes by some cultures around the world. It was actually only in 1928 when cannabis was made illegal in the UK, and since researchers have found more and more information about its medicinal qualities, we are only now seeing cannabis laws being slowly relaxed around the world.
The cannabis plant contains over 100 compounds known as cannabinoids. Amongst them, two of the most significant are CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). These are the two main cannabinoids which scientists are looking at in conjunction with the human body and are getting excited about the potential medicinal qualities of.
In our body, we have a system called the endocannabinoid system, which relies on the interaction between endocannabinoids (cannabinoids which are produced naturally by the body) and cannabinoid receptors. When these endocannabinoid levels are depleted, health problems can occur.
CBD and THC can both have an impact on these cannabinoid receptors and interact with them in a similar way to the endocannabinoids. You can learn more about CBD here.
Whilst CBD is essentially legal to buy, sell and use in the UK, THC isn’t. THC is the compound that makes you feel stoned when it is taken in high levels, and at the moment in the UK, any product which contains THC levels of over 0.2% are not allowed unless it has been specifically licensed.
Although CBD products are legal to buy, the only products with THC levels of over 0.2% which are legal are those which have been prescribed by doctors.
Cannabis for Medicinal Use
Whilst cannabis is still completely illegal for recreational use, we are seeing some (albeit, very slow) progress in the legalities of cannabis for medicinal use.
Although CBD and THC are almost identical in molecular structure, their effect on the human body is different – and not just that one gets you high and the other doesn’t. Each cannabinoid interacts differently with the cannabinoid receptors, having different effects on the body.
CBD and THC interact differently with the CB1 and CB2 (cannabinoid) receptors, having different effects for people.
Another important factor to note is that CBD and THC can be beneficial on their own, but when taken together, their effect can be multiplied, making them both more effective when taken together. Scientists have also found that one of the biggest effects on THC when it is taken along with CBD, is that it’s psycho-active properties are reduced, giving you less of a ‘high’.
In short, taking CBD and THC together can be much more beneficial for some people than taking CBD on its own.
And this is where the problems come in.
Due to laws on THC in the UK, many people are unable to get their hands on medicines which contain both CBD and THC.
GW Pharmaceuticals are world leaders in the science of using Phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoids) for its medicinal qualities. They are a British biopharmaceutical company who were born in 1998 and are best known for their two products which are legal in many countries around the world – Epidiolex (which can be used to help people with certain forms of epilepsy containing CBD) and Sativex (which can be used to help people suffering from MS, and with a CBD to THC ratio of 1:1).
GW Pharmaceuticals are also backed by a number of influential people within the UK. With such an interest in the success of GW Pharmaceuticals by the political class, it maybe shouldn’t be a surprise that other medicinal cannabis products are struggling to get through.
The success of GW Pharmaceuticals in getting their medications made from medical cannabis licensed and legal in many countries around the world is a great first step in helping the people who could benefit from cannabis-derived products to get them. However, they certainly seem to have a monopoly on these products, especially in the UK.
Britain’s medical cannabis industry is thriving – mainly through the success of GW Pharmaceuticals. Which should be a good thing, paving the way for plenty more medical cannabis research and producers.
However, supporters of medical cannabis are finding that they are coming up against blockages in getting hold of medications derived from the cannabis plant – and this is mainly due to them being told that it has no medicinal benefits to them.
There seems to be a deep irony in the fact that a business which can benefit some of the political class in the UK can be blossoming from exporting their medicinal cannabis and yet, it is very difficult to obtain their products here in the UK.
Getting Medical Cannabis
The changes in the law in 2018 mean that there are a few patients who are legally allowed to have access to medical cannabis products such as Sativex. However, the reality is that it is proving to be very difficult to actually get.
And this is why we are seeing increasing amounts of patients or their families going abroad to get the medication that they need and risking arrest to bring it back into the UK or growing their own medicinal cannabis.
Part of the problem is logistical – licences are needed for stocking and transporting it, which can be difficult to obtain. Perhaps an even larger obstacle is that due to the fact that cannabis was illegal not many years ago, there is a lack of long term medical research. This means that those who make the guidelines are trying to catch up with the law, and therefore doctors and medical professionals are reluctant to embrace cannabis-based medications.
This isn’t necessarily something specific to cannabis-based medications, however. It does take a long time to get medications easily into the mainstream, but it is very frustrating for people who are suffering from debilitating conditions, and their loved ones to know that there is medication out there, but that they are not able to get it. Especially as it is being mass produced in the UK and companies are making huge profits from it.
There is a lot of potential locked inside the cannabis plant, which is bursting to get out and help the people that really need it. Although legal CBD products can be very beneficial to your general good health, there is more to the plant than that. And although we are seeing the gradual change in laws around the world, which are helping to improve lives, it seems like the UK is lagging behind some of the front runners in terms of getting medical cannabis products to those who need them.
Which seems very ironic, seeing as we are the world’s biggest medicinal cannabis producer.