I have written about cannabis before. I have posted about it. I have spoken publicly about it, presented at several events, talked to dozens of my patients and so on. Why? Let me make it clear:
1. It is a plant used from ancient times. From Phoenicia to Greece, among other countries, its use dates back to more than 2.000 years. The legal status changed in the last century for many reasons, mostly political (Google the history of the legal status of cannabis and you will see the details), industrial (opposition from the plastic/nylon/petroleum product industry), pharmaceutical (cannot be patented i.e. not optimal for pharmaceutical sales) and also to limit the recreational use (as Graham Hancock put it “The war on drugs is actually a war on consciousness”).
I find it ridiculous to limit the usage of a plant because of such reasons. Safe use can be ensured through appropriate education of the public and healthcare professionals.
2. Now that it has been legalized in many countries, it is easier for researchers to actually conduct trials and the data so far is very favorable. There are hundreds of studies, cohort, doubled-blind placebo-controlled, population studies, all the possible methods used. There is no lethal dose, side effect profile is fairly safe (of course depending on the patient’s genetic predisposition, abuse potential, co-morbidities, medication etc) and it has been shown to treat many conditions, both as an adjunct therapy and alone. So if the data is showing us a promising future, it is inhumane to limit its use.
3. Illegality does not stop the use. People will still search for it, and find it. Unfortunately, that way, patients that need to use cannabis, are buying it from the black market; unknown quality, expensive and also risking their criminal record. A patient should have access to all potential treatments. Since there are studies on cannabis and multiple sclerosis from many academic institutions in the US and many other countries, it is absurd that a patient with multiple sclerosis that lives in Greece needs to risk his/her freedom, health and life just to get access to his/her medicine.
4. Controlled dispensing will not only aid the state through taxation and a new industry that will breed new jobs, it will also ensure that patients receive cannabis of high quality standards, without dangerous additives or chemicals. Controlled dispensing will also allow pharmacists to ensure safe use of the medicine; by controlling the quantity and quality dispensed, but also by consulting the patient about the conditions of use of medicinal cannabis, dosage, drug-drug interactions and so on (there is no consulting in the black market, is there?)
5. Legalization for medicinal purposes will reduce the hype around use and abuse (“Drugs without the hot air” by Prof. David Nutt explains that in detail). If grandmas are using cannabis for arthritis pain, the “cool” and “hype” around recreational use is decreased in many cases.
6. The stigma of cannabis use will fade over the years if cannabis is legal, therefore patients would openly talk about it, helping more patients and reaching out to media, spreading knowledge and experiences. Certainly, there already are activist patient groups talking about it, but I personally know of many people (both patients and doctors) who are shy to talk about it, not only because of legal status, but mainly because they don’t want to be labeled as “drug users” or “addicts”.
7. Cannabis is not a drug. It is a plant. The term drug is used to manipulate public opinion about it. The plant contains many active substances (phytocannabinoids and terpenes), therefore many “drugs”. You know what other things are drugs? Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and also the pills you pop when you can’t sleep or have a headache. But we are ok with those, somehow. We are also ok with barbiturates, the abuse of which kills thousands of people every year. Yet, not only are they legal, but they are being prescribed on a daily basis. And I’m not going against the pharmaceutical companies here. There are drugs that are absolutely mandatory to use in certain conditions. There are medicines that save lives every day. But there are some that cause damage and are abused wildly and I can’t be blind to that. And our commonly accepted drugs (alcohol, nicotine and caffeine) are also abused and damaging public health, so let’s not get so stuck on the word “drug”.
8. To conclude, I believe that it is the right of any patient to be able to access and use cannabis for medical purposes. Access to treatment is a human right. Plants are plants. What we do with them, what we put into our bodies, is our choice.