Cannabis may prove to be the miracle drug of the century. Cancer, chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy, asthma, insomnia, autism, PTSD, inflammatory bowel disease and Parkinson’s join the ever-growing list of conditions that supposedly can be improved, and potentially cured, by medical cannabis. However, many scientists and doctors remain skeptical.
Though it’s evident some patients have experienced life-changing benefits, unlike most medicines, cannabinoids haven’t had full clinical trials. This means evidence around dosage and side effects is often lacking, leaving sufferers to use trial and error to determine what works for them.
Although two cannabis-based medicines produced by GW pharma have been approved for use by the NHS in England to treat epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, many doctors are still reluctant to write prescriptions for medical cannabis, wary of hyperbolic claims about its efficacy. While the law has been changed, no real education and few significant trials are available. In addition, doctors have been taught for decades that cannabis is a dangerous recreational drug – with little effort to increase understanding of its medicinal benefits, this perception may take time to change.
However, some progress is being made. Europe’s largest study into the effects of medical cannabis has begun, incorporating about 20,000 patients who suffer from a range of disorders including epilepsy, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, PTSD disorder and several other chronic conditions. There have also been some successes. A recent trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine found cannabidiol – one of at least 113 compounds found in the plant – significantly reduced the severity and frequency of seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy, known as Dravet syndrome.
Nevertheless, many leading figures acknowledge that the evidence base for the clinical efficacy of medicinal cannabis remains, at best, of moderate quality for most conditions. Many of the studies which are commonly cited in support of its effectiveness are low in evidentiary value because they rely too heavily on case reports and make claims based on small patient groups.
Regardless of these warnings, the demand from patients is clearly increasing. A recent study found that approximately 1.4m British people are using “street cannabis” to treat medically diagnosed chronic health conditions. The increasing trend of people in the UK (and indeed worldwide) to self-medicate is astounding. Cannabis has long been used for medical purposes across the world and from as early as 2900BC in China and the potential for this drug, both from a patient and business perspective could be unrivalled – especially including the possibility of eradicating opioids.
Anecdotally, cannabis seems to have the potential to change the day to day lives of many individuals for the better, but without sufficient evidence and in-depth clinical trials, leading professionals will continue to call for caution.