In this issue GYone Health magazine recognises the concerns of the general public with regard to cannabis being used as a herbal alternative in the Channel Islands. For this reason we have set aside preconceived ideas about its use and instead approached it with fresh eyes: without prejudice. Our findings were surprising and may enlighten rather than frighten!

Mention the word ‘cannabis’ and the majority of us will immediately relate this to drugs and adjoin it with heroin or cocaine. Pictures are conjured of addicts and dreadful images of people out of their heads. That may be an unfair comparison.  It is a fact that cannabis or marijuana, as it is also known, is the single most used recreational drug in the world; however, to date there have been no deaths attributed to its use. This does not say that we are recommending it as a recreational drug of choice! This does however indicate something about its safety but not a great deal about its persecution. 

Cannabis is a herb which has had thousands of years’ usage as a positive substance.  It has many properties which make it useful for therapeutic use. It is a herb which is being constantly researched and this is leading to better understanding with regard to its applications. Unfortunately, improper use has caused these beneficial aspects to have been tarnished so re-education is needed to make us more aware of the proof of its benefits. 

Cannabis is a plant which has uses other than those deemed as psychoactive or mind altering: these act primarily on the central nervous system and alter brain function. This sounds very alarming but substances containing these mind-altering chemicals most of us take in on a regular basis: alcohol, nicotine  and caffeine are psychoactive ‘drugs’ that are legally available but harmful if taken to excess; these stimulants alter physical and psychological wellbeing too. How many of us see a glass of wine as a way of unwinding after a busy day or a way of losing inhibition at a party. A cigarette ‘to calm your nerves?’ It’s a question of control and measurement.

There are ways in which those particularised properties can be harnessed for positive benefits in cannabis. Attitudes are changing due to the research currently being undertaken in all parts of the world into cannabis’ therapeutic use. Mind sets are changing in countries as pleas for its legal use are gaining firm footholds. In America for example which has very harsh drug and criminal justice policies, thirteen states have moved towards decriminalising cannabis /marijuana for recreational use but what about its other properties as a complimentary therapy? Here it is a different picture altogether: thirty states and Washington DC allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes even to the extent of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries and in some states home cultivation; this varies according to each state but it does represent a sea change in standpoints: a profound shift in approach to this herb’s use for the common good rather than as a leisure activity. Canada has a particularly relaxed attitude; cannabis is currently legal in Canada for medicinal purposes.

In the UK unfortunately there exists a paradox: Mathew Norman of the Independent stated recently that ‘the absurdity of cannabis being illegal …’ should be compared to the fact that the UK is, ‘…the [world’s] largest exporter of legal cannabis with almost half the global market [but] refuses to recognise any medical benefits.’ This despite testimonials and personal anecdotes to the contrary. There is now confirmation of a change and official recognition of the properties of cannabis or marijuana made very recently by the home secretary Sajid Javid who has  “…taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products – meaning they will be available on prescription.” This is a start and hopefully users will see the results of other research being taken seriously and cease to feel they are breaking the law. This change was as a result of lobbying by the parents of children with rare forms of epilepsy which seemed to respond to treatment with cannabis oil. Other campaigners for its use as a therapy have spoken up consequently. 

Genevieve Edwards director of external affairs at the MS Society stated “… this is exceptional news…” and “…priority now has to be making sure everyone who could benefit can access cannabis in a safe and responsible way.” She feels that, “…this life-changing decision could help thousands with the condition who haven’t been able to find relief for their pain and muscle spasms.” Other fields of interest are the devastating tragedy that is dementia which robs the individual of their memories and dignity. Research into its effect in the treatment of dementia have been positive.

Going back to the question of control and measurement unless the source of therapeutic cannabis is restricted the problem of overdosing arises. It needs an element of trust which we all place in preparations over the counter in pharmacies for example; if cannabis oil was sold in such a way then that would lead to security in the product. There are pioneers out there with their convictions regarding its positive properties willing to invest in production and working in close proximity with the Home Office. Perhaps it is time to be more aware of the proof of its benefits rather than its reputation; time to harness what the world has benefitted from but over time has slowly forgotten: a valuable inheritance from our ancestors we have lost.