Medical cannabis is now available on prescription

Working in a drug and alcohol rehab clinic, I am often asked for my opinion on whether or not this new development is going to be a ‘good thing’ for people’s health. I have to admit, I have a number of concerns about cannabis now being legally available for medicinal purposes.
No one could fail to have been moved by the plight of the two boys with severe epilepsy who seemed to benefit from the use of cannabis oil but were denied it. I acknowledge that cannabis oil seemed to have helped them. There may well be many other people who would benefit from being prescribed cannabis ranging from those desperately in need to those who might prefer to have a prescription for cannabis to ease their discomfort. Currently there are strict guidelines for prescribing the drug. It is restricted to children with severe epilepsy, adults with nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy and adults who experience muscle stiffness from multiple sclerosis. The prescriptions are likely to be for pills, capsules and oils.
My concern is this:
Some people prescribed cannabis will experience a ‘high’ and could become addicted to this. As with other medications – most notably opiates, benzodiazepines and other mood altering medications -there is a possibility that those prescribed cannabis for valid health reasons will not take it in the prescribed dosage and will develop a habit. This is likely to cause more pain and suffering in the long term than caused by the symptoms it was prescribed to relieve.
Another concern is that we are opening the door to cannabis prescriptions for wider use than only for children with epilepsy and adults with multiple sclerosis or recovering from chemotherapy. If cannabis is approved for more general pain relief, then many more people will want to try it. It has been suggested that it could only be effective in relieving pain in around 1 in 28 cases. So 27 out of 28 people may be taking it for no good health benefit with the attendant risk of the negative side effects and potential addiction. I am also concerned that cannabis prescribed for legitimate purposes will get into the wrong hands and will inevitably be traded on the streets.
Cannabis is not a harmless vegetable matter, whatever some people might argue. Yes, prescription cannabis will be more controlled in terms of its THC content than the cannabis illegally circulated today. Prescription codeine taken as co-codamol, tramadol, oramorph etc is also controlled in its opiate content, but this does not stop many thousands of people becoming addicted to the pills, causing untold misery.
A recent report from Canada – where cannabis has recently been made legal for recreational purposes – suggests that cannabis is more harmful to the adolescent brain than alcohol. It is known to affect cognitive abilities such as learning, attention and decision making as well as academic performance at school.
To me, this is stating the obvious. We have seen at the Haynes Clinic many young people who started smoking cannabis at a young age, before their brains had finished developing, and who now as young adults are emotionally stunted and whose brains are not functioning cognitively as they should. These people often experience psychosis and paranoia, have a strong attachment to conspiracy theories and live their lives in fear. Their sleep patterns can be massively disturbed and they experience mood swings.
Cannabis being more accepted and in wider circulation can only increase these problems. I fear the legalisation of cannabis today for medicinal purposes will not be a positive step for everyone.

 

Author: Dr Magda Czerwinska