“What I find disappointing with the current government response is that we know that the long-term consequences COVID aren’t going to be chronic lung disease, they’re going to be psychiatric problems.
“We’ve already got a massive rise in the number of healthcare professionals, and people who’ve had COVID, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We haven’t got very good treatments for PTSD, and cannabis is a potential treatment, particularly nightmares and flashbacks. Why don’t we start trying medical cannabis in these people?”
However, Nutt concedes that there are numerous barriers to overcome before medical cannabis could be used readily, for COVID-19 or any other health issues.
“Very few people in Britain using medical cannabis are getting it through the NHS or a private prescriber, many are getting it through the black market. That’s unacceptable – people don’t know what they’re getting and are running the risk of a conviction if they get caught,” Nutt says.
The UK’s medical cannabis regulations are “backwards,” despite the fact it could be the most important revelation in medicine over the lifetime of doctors practicing today, he says.
Since changing the law in November 2018 to allow specialist doctors to prescribe medical cannabis, the government has “taken away with one hand and given with the other hand, in a series of perverse and bureaucratic hurdles”.
Nutt described the series of changes needed to get medical cannabis to those who need it at this week’s Prohibition Partners online event.
Since November 2018, no NHS doctor has prescribed cannabis to a patient, which Nutt says is because practitioners have very little independence.
“The NHS is very monolithic organisation,” he says. “Every person in the NHS comes under a spotlight – if a doctor in Cornwall prescribes cannabis, someone in the Department of Health knows about it and questions can be put to bear. This has extinguished individual creativity and thought in doctors.”
Instead, the prescribing of medical cannabis should be opened up to GPs, Nutt argues, because they “see the value” in it.
“Specialists, by their nature, tend to be more academic, more concerned about doing things differently, whereas GPs are in the real world, they have to help people and reduce suffering.”
More widely, Nutt blames bureaucracy for the lack of progress in the UK with allowing patients access to medical cannabis.
“Maybe part of it is that, reluctantly, patients dragged [the government] into a new world and they’re clinging onto the fact that if we make difficult for long enough people will give up, partly because of bureaucracy, and there’s no coordinated decision-making.”
In March this year the government changed import restrictions to allow patients with prescriptions faster access to medical cannabis. However, Nutt argues that the government needs to liberate imports and import a year’s supply into the UK at a time to allow for continuity.
There are concerns doing so would leak cannabis onto the unregulated ‘black’ market, but, Nutt argues, this market is already saturated and the benefits would outweigh the costs.
Responsibility for drug control, he adds, should be taken from the Home Office and given to the Department of Health.
“We’re one of the few countries in the world that divides decision-making about cannabis between two government departments – getting two government departments to agree on anything is very difficult,” he says.
Nutt argues that medical cannabis will save the NHS money, and that the current cost of not properly prescribing medical cannabis in the UK is driven of bureaucracy.
“If we liberated importation, got rid of the scheduled two status and maybe make it schedule four, if we had a rational approach to the regulation and stopped being so hysterical and fearful about it, it would halve the cost. There’s so much cost involved in importation and regulations.”
Nutt is chair of the Drug Science’s Medical Cannabis Working Group, comprising stakeholders from patient organisations, academics and industry members, with the remit to develop and research and policies for the UK.
Last year, Nutt set up TWENTY21, which has since published a number of policy documents, including one looking at clinical approaches to prescribing medical cannabis, and a pending report looking at potential dependence of medical cannabis compared to recreational cannabis use. The group is also developing teaching materials for doctors.
“We’re aware that most doctors don’t have an understanding of cannabis medicines,” Nutt says, who have spent years “vilifying them as dangerous drugs that cause psychosis and dependence”.
“Getting doctors to change from that prohibitionist view is challenging, and the way to do it is to educate them, which is difficult, but less difficult than educating med students.”
Nutt has set up groups of medical students in different medical schools to educate doctors on medical cannabis.
Also, last year Nutt launched the project TWENTY21, an initiative of prescribing medical cannabis for anxiety disorder, chronic pain epilepsy, MS, PTSD, substance use disorder and Tourette’s syndrome, overseen by academic experts working voluntarily, who are collecting data on the treatments.
“Let’s see if we can get prescribing set up in a way which is useful in terms of gathering data and monitoring potential harms of these drugs, and hopefully it’ll assuage some of fears of psychosis development and dependence,” Nutt says.
There are currently 7,000 people signed up to the registry, and Nutt aims to get 20,000 patients signed up by the end of 2021. They each pay £150 per month, which is estimated to be what they’d be paying through the unregulated market.
Researchers will collect data about their quality of life and self-reported outcomes, and can follow patients up for up to two years.
“One of the things that became clear when talking to patients who use medical cannabis is that they find it very helpful but doctors aren’t interested in what they think. We think patients should be driving this,” Nutt says.
The registry has built a network of independent prescribers, and has trained 15 doctors so they can prescribe “in a sensible, evidence-based way,” Nutt says.
Lara Parker: “It’s hard to overstate the impact cannabis has had on my life”
For Endometriosis Awareness Month, Cannabis Health caught up with LA author and editor Lara Parker about living with the condition and finding relief in cannabis.
When BuzzFeed editor Lara Parker opened up about living with endometriosis in an article in 2014, she learned that there was power in numbers.
She received the diagnosis less than a year before. But she had been battling excruciating cramps, painful sex and a raft of other debilitating – and unexplained – symptoms since her teens.
It took seven years for Lara to be diagnosed with endometriosis. If that seems like a long time, it’s not, relatively speaking. Seven and a half years is the average length of time it takes for a patient to be diagnosed, despite the fact that the condition affects one in ten and around 1.5 million women in the UK.
Since that first article Lara has become something of an icon for tens of thousands living with endometriosis and chronic illness – particularly women who feel silenced, disbelieved and let down by gender bias in the medical system. In 2020 her first book came out, aptly named Vagina Problems, chronicling her journey in an attempt to provide for others what she wished had been available to her.
But there’s another reason Lara’s 50,000 plus Instagram followers show up (apart from the steamy shots). She openly, unashamedly, shares the therapeutic effects that cannabis has on her symptoms and overall health and wellbeing.
Living in Los Angeles she has widespread access to legal cannabis, but has still faced stigma and hid it from her doctors initially.
Speaking to Cannabis Health, she reveals how the plant has changed her view of conventional medicine and helped her take control of her own health.
CH: Can you tell me a little bit about your current diagnoses and what the journey was like to get to this point?
Lara: My current diagnoses are endometriosis, adenomyosis, and overall pelvic floor dysfunction. It was a really long and difficult journey to receive these answers. I started experiencing severe symptoms that were disrupting my life when I was just a teenager — around 15 years old. It wasn’t until nearly six years later that I was given my first diagnosis of endometriosis after insisting that a doctor perform a laparoscopic surgery. Since then, it’s been a constant uphill battle to not only find doctors who are knowledgeable about these conditions, but who believed that I deserved relief.
CH: How is your health at the moment and how do your symptoms impact your day to day life?
Lara: My health is up and down. I had a second surgery in January of 2020 to treat my endometriosis and my appendix was removed during this procedure. In some ways, I notice a positive change in my health since the surgery, but in many other ways, I am still struggling.
I was put on an excessive amount of prescription drugs prior to the surgery and have spent the last eight plus months attempting to wean off of them. This has added so much stress and symptoms onto my life.
In the midst of COVID-19, I was living in the epicentre of the world for the virus for several months. I had to forgo getting care for my illnesses because of my fear of getting COVID and adding yet another health issue on top. The reality of the situation is that there is no cure for endometriosis. I am maybe better than I have been in the past, but I am still at the bottom of a mountain trying to climb my way to the top.
CH: How did you first discover the medicinal benefits of cannabis?
Lara: It was by accident, really. I just happened to be dating someone who enjoyed smoking cannabis and would do it fairly often. One day, I was having a horrific pain day when he suggested I try it out and see how I felt. The relief was immediate. I had never experienced anything like it before. After that I began to explore more. I went to dispensaries and asked them questions and I tested out any products that I could get my hands on.
CH: How has it improved things for you?
Lara: The better question would be how hasn’t it improved things for me? Cannabis has given me an appetite when absolutely nothing else has, it has given me an ability to orgasm in the midst of pelvic pain, it has helped my stress and anxiety levels in the midst of dealing with chronic illnesses, and has helped my pain levels like nothing else ever has. It’s hard to overstate the impact that cannabis has had on my life.
CH: Did you speak to your doctors about it and were they supportive?
Lara: At first, they were not. I was so excited to have found something that genuinely seemed to help me that I could not understand why my doctors weren’t feeling the same enthusiasm. I sort of stopped bringing it up and almost consumed it in secret for a while, but the more I experimented with it and the more it helped me, the more angry I became.
I eventually chose to stop seeing any of the doctors who were unsupportive of my cannabis use. Now, when I assemble a new team of doctors or visit a new one I am very firm. I use this plant. It helps me. If you have a problem with that or make condescending comments about it, I will walk and I will no longer be a patient of yours – and I will make sure no one in my circle is either.
It’s past time for doctors to realise the medicinal benefits that can be found in this plant.
CH: Has it changed your opinion on pharmaceutical drugs and conventional medicine?
Lara: Yes, unequivocally. I was never a huge fan of ‘big pharma’ prior to discovering cannabis simply because it never really seemed to work for me. I was always left with an intense side effect or two which would then have to be treated with more pharmaceutical drugs. I was starting at a level of being in pain and felt like I just kept adding on layers and layers of other issues and it was extremely demoralising.
I support ‘big pharma’ if it works for you, it’s absolutely someone’s own personal choice. What bothers me, however, is that many people aren’t even allowed access to cannabis to even see if it could help them in place of pharmaceuticals. It’s quite disgusting, really and I hope I see it change in my lifetime.
CH: Living in LA where cannabis is easy to access, how does it make you feel that many other patients don’t have this?
Lara: It’s enraging. It’s mind-boggling that we have access to such an amazing plant and that others don’t simply because their elected officials don’t know how to read books and use their brains.
CH: You’re very open about your cannabis consumption, have you experienced stigma because of it?
Lara: Certainly, but not at a level that someone who was not white would, I am sure. I grew up in a very small, conservative town in the midwest and a lot of people there still associate cannabis with being some sort of murderer or dangerous person. This past weekend, actually, my parents received an anonymous note in the mail with a bunch of pictures of me smoking cannabis with the words “Are you proud?” written on each one.
CH: As someone with a large following on social media, how do you deal with people offering unsolicited advice and telling you how to manage your own health?
Lara: I have had to learn how to set boundaries and stick to them. I have had so many people get angry with me simply because I say to them, ‘I didn’t ask for your medical advice, and I don’t want it’. But it’s been absolutely crucial for me to do so. It’s very difficult to be inundated with commentary on your body constantly. If I wanted advice or help, I would certainly ask for it.
CH: You’ve chosen to use your platform to help others, what impact does that have on you as a patient yourself?
Lara: It has given me the greatest gift of all; to know that I am not alone and that no matter where I am in my struggle, someone else is right there with me. There is power in numbers and I believe that our community is just getting started.
CH: What needs to change about how healthcare treats people with endometriosis and other invisible conditions?
Lara: So much, we need a complete rehaul of medicine. We need patient-forward care. We need holistic approaches. We need medicare for all. We need western doctors to drop the narcissism and admit that they actually don’t have all the answers, not even close.
CH: What is one thing you would like people to know about endometriosis?
Lara: It is a whole body disease that impacts every single part of someone’s life. It needs to be treated as such.
Vagina Problems: Endometriosis, Painful Sex and Other Taboo Topics is available now.
Follow Lara on Instagram @laraeparker
“I experienced peace I’d never felt before”: The African encounter which inspired a CBD empire
Suffering with a severe fever while in Kenya as a teenager, Paul Shrive was given a cannabis-based brew by a local. He not only recovered from the illness, but experienced mental clarity for the first time in his life, he tells Cannabis Health.
Paul Shrive, founder of Leafline CBD, had a challenging childhood. He would frequently get in trouble with his schoolteachers and was bullied by his classmates for being “different than everybody else”.
“It was a very, very difficult and traumatic time for me at school,” Paul recalls, speaking to Cannabis Health.
“Teachers used to look at me as a problem child, because when somebody was screaming at me, I just couldn’t take it; it was like I was being attacked.”
Although he has never been formally diagnosed, Paul has been told unofficially that he is on the autism spectrum, which has meant he experiences his senses differently to most people.
“Everything just goes a zillion miles per hour,” he explains.
“Something wasn’t right, but I spent my life thinking it was just me, that it was just who I was. But there was actually something out there that could make it better, I just didn’t realise it at the time.”
In 1986, when Paul was fourteen years old, his father was offered an opportunity to come out of retirement and travel to Africa to carry out work on a food manufacturing plant that he had helped set up a decade previously.
Paul was given the choice of either going to Africa or staying in school in the UK. Given the difficulties he was experiencing with his teachers and fellow pupils, Paul jumped at the opportunity and boarded the plane to Nairobi with his Dad.
Over the next nine months, Paul came to discover cannabis, which he says was part of everyday life in Kenya despite its illegality.
Paul remembered walking around the outskirts of Nairobi and seeing small children picking a mysterious plant.
“I started noticing these little kids in fields picking plants and filling up these clear bags,” Paul says.
“I wondered what they were doing.
“I got back into Nairobi centre and around the markets I saw the same boys, around eight or ten years old. My Dad told me they were shoeshine boys.
“I noticed that they had dozens of these bags around the waist – I know now that they were bags of cannabis; pure hemp growing everywhere in the fields.
“Businessmen would have their shoes polished and buy these bags and take them to their wives, because they use them for cooking, they use it as herbal remedies – it’s part of their everyday life.”
Not long after arriving in Africa, Paul became ill, catching a serious bug causing an intense fever that continued to rise despite being seen by a number of doctors. He was hooked up to a drip in his hotel room while doctors attempted to cure him through various treatments.
A British chef working at the hotel heard about Paul’s situation and approached his Dad. He believed, as the boy was suffering from an African illness, it would require African medicine to treat.
“I was delirious,” Paul says. “I was all over the place. I really wasn’t well.”
“They had a chat with one of the major tribes in the area and asked if they could help me.
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but I know that I was visited by a ‘witch doctor’ or ‘shaman’ of some kind.
“The next thing that I remember is my father waking me up. He had a clay vial in his hand containing a black and gloopy kind of liquid. It had had alcohol and pure hemp in there.
“I was out for the count completely for more than a day, but while I was knocked out, my temperature started to drop, and drop, and it allowed me to heal.”
Many people, including his father, believed his recovery was purely coincidental, but Paul says it didn’t matter whether it was or wasn’t. What struck him when he regained consciousness was how clear his head was.
“When I came around, for the first time ever, I experienced peace that I’d never felt before,” he says.
“I felt normal. There was nothing that agitated me, I could sit there without fidgeting, I could sit there without having to worry, or feel as though I had to put my hands over my ears.
“When you’ve had a whole life of what you feel is torture, it was a revelation to find that kind of peace and tranquillity.”
For the remainder of his time in Nairobi, Paul was provided with a less potent form of the concoction without the addition of alcohol. He consumed a small amount twice a day. As it contained THC, Paul remembers feeling a rush from the medicine, but it was manageable.
“I could think and I could hold a full conversation. I could look at people in the eye and totally hear what they were saying,” he adds.
On his return to the UK, Paul says he had a “short, sharp shock” when he discovered that the plant was illegal. As a young teenager, he was unaware that people were using cannabis for recreational purposes. With no access to the plant, Paul says he suffered for a number of years.
When CBD began to see an increase in popularity several years ago, Paul was quick to launch his own business, Leafline CBD with his wife Sonia, who has her own journey with the supplement. Suffering with PMDD (post-menstrual dysphoric disorder), a severe form of PMS, Sonia’s doctor prescribed her a low dose of anti-depressants.
Paul suggested to his wife that she try CBD to manage the symptoms instead, so she started taking an oil every morning and night and over time, her symptoms subsided.
“The last thing I wanted, was a pharmaceutical drug to treat it,” says Sonia.
“PMDD isn’t a mental problem, it is a hormonal problem.
“For PMDD sufferers, it last for between 6 days and 3 weeks every month which is no fun at all. I still have symptoms, don’t get me wrong, but they are for a smaller amount of time and symptoms are not as intense since taking CBD. ”
Like the rest of the UK’s CBD sector, Leafline are preparing for the Food Standard Agency’s Novel Food Applications which close on the 31st March.
But as a firm believer in the power of whole-plant extract since his experiences in Nairobi, Paul is fearful that full-spectrum products will no longer be permitted following the deadline.
“Isolate-based [CBD] does have a purpose, it does have a mode of action, but the true goal is whole-plant and I’m really scared because I think it’s going to be taken away from us,” he says.
“Unfortunately, by doing that, it that will create a black market. I’ve had somebody that has been on whole-plant for a long time and then when we gave them an isolate tincture, it didn’t work.”
Paul adds: “You can’t mess with nature. Leave nature alone and nature will do its job.”
“At 83, CBD gave me my spirit back” says grandmother-of-two
Carla Shrive suffers from severe arthritis along with other health issues. When the pain started to impact her sleep, day-to-day life and wellbeing, her son stepped in and introduced her to CBD.
Now, the 83-year-old grandmother-of-two is off all prescription medicines apart from paracetamol and is managing her health conditions through CBD alone.
“About three years ago, I joined Slimming World,” Carla recalls.
“I had put weight on and was feeling really down. When I joined, there were tears in my eyes because I felt ashamed of myself for how big I was.
“I started to go to the sessions, but I was very much in pain. I had to do something about it because my bones were so painful; I couldn’t walk at the time.”
Her son, Paul Shrive, who runs the company CBD Leafline, recognised how much discomfort his mother was in and recommended she try CBD.
“She was taking tablets for arthritis pain and blood pressure, her hair was falling out, and she used to take a minimum of eight paracetamol a day,” Paul says.
“It got to a point on one day where she couldn’t get out of bed as her knee was all inflamed. She was in absolute agony, getting barely any sleep and her diet was all over the place.
“She was really suffering.”
Paul gave his mother a 1000mg tincture of whole plant CBD and told her to take twice a day.
“My son came to me and said ‘look, mum to help you out with your pains, I’ve found you some CBD so you might try it’,” Carla continues.
“I was curious about it; I wanted to know more, so I read some leaflets and because I have great faith in my son, I trusted his recommendation.”
After just four days, Carla started to see improvements to her health. She was having a full night’s sleep for the first time in months, her complexion improved and the arthritis in her hands started to get better.
Several months after her first dose of CBD, she is walking again and finding daily tasks such as cooking much easier.
“It’s marvellous, 18 months ago, I couldn’t walk like I do, I wasn’t very happy at all and hated all the medication I was taking,” she says.
“But since I started CBD, there has been no need for it.
“I’m walking a lot now, which I couldn’t do before and the pain just isn’t there anymore. It’s nagging from time to time, but it doesn’t bother me as much at all.”
Carla says she has her “spirit back” since taking CBD and believes it has given her a “new life”.
“I feel happy; it’s given me a great chance to live again,” she adds.
“At 83, I feel young, especially at heart.”
- “I feel hugely let down by the system”: Patients fall victim to UK’s cannabis supply issues
- Does CBD affect endometriosis?
- “CBD allows me to function” – biker ‘died’ three times after freak road accident
- How much CBD should I take?
- My experience as a medical cannabis prescriber on Project Twenty21
- More than half Americans don’t know the difference between CBD and THC
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