Data shows the majority of over 55s would consider taking medical cannabis – should it be prescribed instead of conventional painkillers?
New research suggests almost three quarters of people over the age of 55 would be open to considering cannabis medication if it was offered to them – compared to two thirds of the population as a whole.
The findings came from a poll by Open Cannabis, a new campaign to educate the public and increase access to cannabis medicines in the UK.
Dr Sunil Arora, an acute pain, chronic pain and cancer pain specialist, who was one of the first UK doctors to prescribe medical cannabis, is not surprised that the older generation is more open-minded about it.
“By that stage, people have probably explored the medical options available to them fully,” he said.
“If they have tried what conventional medicine can offer and it has not proven beneficial for their conditions, they’re more likely to be in a position to explore alternatives.”
He added: “They probably can remember their parents or someone they know using cannabinoids for therapeutic value back in the day and so are a little bit more open-minded about it.”
Older members of the population are also more likely to experience health conditions and chronic pain than the younger generation.
According to the British Medical Journal, the proportion of people over the age of 75 who suffer daily with chronic pain could be as high as 60 percent.
“Pain tends to start later on in life,” continued Dr Arora.
“If you’re in your 30s or 40s, you’re probably not experiencing those conditions, so don’t need to take anything, as most people don’t in the younger age groups, whereas over 55’s tend to fit the disease profile.”
The findings come as draft guidance published last month by NICE suggests that prescription guidelines for pain patients need to move away from drugs such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and tramadol.
It has left many patients and health professionals concerned, aware that alternatives are needed, with leading doctors suggesting that medical cannabis should be prescribed for older people suffering from chronic pain, such as joint injuries and muscular dystrophy, as opposed to conventional painkillers.
Although cannabis-based medicines were legalised in the UK in 2018, they are still not widely available via the NHS and are only prescribed through private clinics prescribing if other medication has not proven effective.
Dr Steve Hajioff, a former director of the British Medical Association, said cannabis should be made available legally, via prescriptions, to prevent patients from turning to the black market when all legal, readily accessible options have failed to provide relief from their pain.
“Cannabis-derived medicines can help fill the gap in helping people with chronic pain, as we move away from some pain-management procedures, such as opioids of NSAID drugs,” he said.
“Patients who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines need to be made aware of legal routes to access these treatments in the UK, so they are not exposed to the dangers associated with the illegal market.”
Dr Arora, who has spoken of the stigma he faced in the medical industry after he began prescribing cannabis, has welcomed the fact that other clinicians are coming forward to talk about its benefits.
However, he warned, we need more studies into which specific conditions it can be used to treat effectively.
“It’s really good that doctors are coming forward and feeling able to speak about it, without getting mocked for spreading the word of what they believe is the therapeutic value of medical cannabis,” he said.
“We’re having the discussion about cannabinoids’ role within pain and I’m very open to that, but we need to be aware that cannabis can replace those medications in specific conditions, not in every condition.”
Dr Arora continued: “We really need to build some robust evidence going forward to be able to say whether it does or doesn’t work and in which conditions.
“These studies are ongoing and that will be found out over the next five or 10 years, but the UK is behind other countries which are already building evidence.”
Until we have this evidence he feels doctors are wary and unlikely to widely prescribe medical cannabis.
“There is huge potential and that evidence is coming but it is not available presently and that’s the difficulty for those doctors who don’t believe in its therapeutic value – they don’t have the evidence that it works that they would have for other medications,” he said.
However, having seen many patients using cannabis illicitly during his practice, he encouraged people to be honest and speak to their doctor if they feel they could benefit from medical cannabis.
“Stigma remains an issue – despite a wide range of cannabis medicines now being available in the UK to help manage symptoms for pain patients who have tried other options,” he added.
“If patients feel that they could benefit from cannabis medicines, they should speak to a specialist.”
A spokesman for Open Cannabis commented: “Our long term aim is to see medical cannabis available to all through the NHS, and to show the government that it is a safe, valuable and effective tool for tackling the plight of patients with chronic pain.
Cancer survivor claims cannabis oil helped her beat brain tumour
When Sheriann Baker was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2017 doctors told her she could have just two years to live. Three years on she’s tumour free and she claims it’s all down to Rick Simpson oil; a high-THC cannabis oil.
“I’m not going to die of cancer,” says Sheriann Baker, speaking to Cannabis Health from her home in Toronto, Canada.
“I honestly believe I will lead a full life.”
She’s pretty confident, for a woman who three years ago had a tumour the size of a golf ball on her brain and was given – worst case scenario – two years to live.
Sheriann had suffered from migraines since the age of five and as an adult could experience up to 20 severe episodes a month, but she was always prescribed painkillers and the cause was never explored further.
It was June 2017 when Sheriann, then 46, was staying with a friend in British Columbia that she realised something was seriously wrong.
“That morning I had experienced this overwhelming smell of burnt tar,” she remembers.
“We went out to a parade and I started to feel really strange. My left foot was fine, but as I stepped down on my right foot, it was like stepping into a pool of water.
“By the time we got to the car I was completely paralysed. I couldn’t get my brain to tell the rest of my body to move.
“My girlfriend drove me to the hospital and got me admitted – and that’s the last thing I remember.”
Sheriann had suffered an eight minute grand mal seizure, which doctors initially thought was caused by a stroke. Three months later in August, following an appointment with her neurologist, an MRI scan showed the tumour.
“At 46-years-old I was told that I had five to 10 years to live at most,” says Sheriann.
“If I didn’t do chemotherapy and radiation, I would most likely die within two years.”
She continues: “That’s where my research started.
“I’ve always been very against chemotherapy and radiation, I know a lot of people who have died from cancer and told me how brutal it is, if I’ve only got a few years left, that’s not a way I want to live.”
A year earlier, Sheriann had lost a good friend, who had begun using Rick Simpson oil (RSO) – cannabis product known for containing higher levels of THC – after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Rick Simpson claims to have cured his metastatic skin cancer in 2003 by using the high grade hemp oil, which is said to include a particular type of cannabis called Cannabis indica, which produces a sedative effect that helps the body heal. The oil is not a branded product – there are various versions available and Simpson’s own website even explains how to make his namesake oil.
Sheriann’s friend sadly passed away from a splint rupturing his lung, but the autopsy is said to have revealed that he was cancer-free.
“That’s when I just knew, I was 150 percent convinced that I needed to try cannabis oil,” she says.
A few months later, Sheriann underwent a six-hour brain surgery. Doctors warned her they wouldn’t be able to remove the whole tumour and three percent was left behind.
She recovered quickly, leaving hospital after 26 hours and two months later was almost completely healed.
“I told my doctors I was using cannabis oil, it’s really important that patients tell their doctors because it can lower your blood pressure,” she says.
“Thankfully they were fantastic and couldn’t believe how great I looked afterwards. I woke up feeling so grateful to be alive and so positive because I had that confidence in the oil.”
A few months later a follow up MRI scan showed that the remaining three percent of the tumour had gone, she says.
“I still have brain cancer, but the cannabis is keeping the tumour from growing back.”
She adds: “It’s now three years later and I feel amazing, my blood work, cholesterol, everything is above average.”
Sheriann continues to take one to two tablets a day of RSO (of 70-75 percent THC and above) mixed with frankincense drops and coconut oil and also eats a completely ‘clean’ diet, cutting out red meat, dairy, carbs, fats and sugar and living mostly on homemade juices.
After she decided to share her journey on social media shortly after she was diagnosed, she is now a full-time influencer and spends her days engaging with and educating her 20,000 followers.
“I have talked to thousands of people around the world who have fought and won against cancer using cannabis oil – every day I get probably five to 10 people reaching out to me,” she says
“We’re saving our own lives and other people need to know about it.”
While she dedicates a lot of her time to raising awareness about the potential benefits of cannabis oil, she is careful not to force it on others
“I’ve lost friends to cancer who weren’t using the oil and it breaks my heart, but you can’t push it on people, you have to let them do their own research and make that decision,” she adds
“People are just afraid, they have been told all their life that it’s a bad drug, they don’t realise the medical benefits.”
RSO was not included in the legalisation of cannabis products in Canada in 2018, due to its high concentrate of THC.
Following a 1975 study which showed THC and other cannabinoids to have a reducing effect on the growth of cancer cells in mice, a number of other studies have been carried out to examine their effectiveness, including a few early-stage trials on humans.
However, much larger and longer term trials are needed to provide conclusive evidence.
“I show all my scans and medical reports online and have even gone to Health Canada, but haven’t had a response from them,” says Sheriann.
“I do get angry about it and I’m not scared to say things online, I’ll take that chance. If they want to throw me in jail with terminal brain cancer, all power to them.”
Several high profile cannabis growers and producers have reached out to Sheriann to donate oil and she was even invited to speak at a national neurologists conference in Toronto earlier this year (which was unfortunately cancelled due to covid).
She laughs: “I couldn’t even believe it when I got invited, I’m just a Canadian girl who started living this lifestyle and am winning because of it.”
Ironically, Sheriann says the three years since she was diagnosed with cancer have been the best of her life.
“When you get the diagnosis, your whole life changes, but I wouldn’t change it for anything,” she says.
“I’ve had people unfollow me because they are in a place where they can’t see the light, but people with cancer can still be happy and have a life.
“I really believe that seeing the positive in everything is a huge thing.”
Sheriann adds: I remember the first time I went into hospital, I was sitting with all these other cancer patients, and they’d all given up.
“I’m not giving up, that’s not me. You have to be as positive as you possibly can until the end.”
Labour MPs call for possible regulation of a legalised cannabis market
A group of Labour MPs are calling for the decriminalisation of drugs and the possible regulation of the UK cannabis market.
The party’s drug policy reform group has urged Labour to take a ‘better approach’ to the war on drugs in the UK.
This includes ending the criminalisation of those who use drugs and ‘exploring the potential’ of a legalised and regulated cannabis market.
In a report published on Wednesday 23 September, the Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform (LCDPR), which was established in 2018 by MPs Jeff Smith MP and Thangam Debonnaire – now shadow housing minister – set out its recommendations for party policy.
It called for MPs to support a ‘public health-based approach to drug use’ and to back police schemes to decriminalise those found in possession of drugs.
It also reported a need to expand research programmes into ‘medicines derived from controlled drugs’ and encouraged politicians to ‘engage seriously’ with worldwide discussions to ‘explore the potential’ of regulating the UK cannabis market.
Highlighting the need to build a fair criminal justice system, the group urged Police and Crime Commissioners and Mayors around the country to look at local law enforcement and make it clear that those possessing or cultivating cannabis to meet a ‘genuine medical need’ should not be charged.
The report said: “One of the main factors impeding efforts to help people who use drugs to stay healthy, and to support their recovery, is the criminalisation and stigma attached to all drug use.
“Arresting and punishing people who use drugs costs the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds per year, gives criminal records to tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding people, and makes it harder for those struggling with addiction to access help and turn their lives around.”
It added: “Labour should therefore be clear that it will end the criminalisation of people who use drugs and make this a matter for public health, not the criminal justice system.”
The reports recommendations are the result of a number of public meetings across the UK, attended by hundreds, and are supported by a number of Labour MPs and MSPs, including several shadow cabinet ministers.
It has been described as a ‘progressive move’ by drug reform campaigners and welcomed by those advocating for patients to have wider access to medical cannabis.
Former chief drugs advisor to then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown and now chair of the Drug Science scientific committee, Professor David Nutt, commented: “Drug Science welcomes this progressive move by Labour that appreciates the reality of the current failed system and recommends evidence-based alternatives.”
Another of those who showed their support for the recommendations is Carly Barton, the first UK patient to receive a private prescription for medical cannabis and the founder of Cancard, a new scheme due to launch in November to protect medical cannabis patients from arrest and prosecution.
Carly told Cannabis Health that Cancard was set up with the full backing of cross-party delegates, including many Labour MPs.
“Cancard exists to prevent needless arrests of people who are consuming medicine simply to be well,” she said.
“We are in support of the latest Labour Party recommendations, they couldn’t be more clear on this issue. Patients are at the end of being able to tolerate anymore fear around criminalisation, MPs can’t justify it and Police don’t want to be in the situation that they find themselves in.
Carly added: “We will continue to work with all political groups to ensure the patient’s voice is heard and we are more effective at making the necessary changes in law.”
Responding to the report on Twitter, Detective Chief Inspector Jason Kew, the Thames Valley Police lead for Drugs, Exploitation and Harm Reduction, who is also backing the Cancard scheme, added: “An awful lot of evidence based sense here. I wish, apolitically, that drug policy wasn’t politicised.
“Great to read a commitment to explore what works internationally and supervised injecting facilities are prioritised too.”
CBD in Europe – what does the future look like?
The EU CBD Market is projected to reach €13.6 billion by 2025 – but classing it as a narcotic could have huge implications, say experts.
Researchers behind a report into the European CBD market, released earlier this year, have said that the implications of the European Commission (EC) considering CBD a narcotic could not be ‘overstated’.
In the latest volume of its European CBD consumer series, New Frontier Data surveyed thousands of CBD users in 17 countries across the continent, to taste of the market.
Annual spending on CBD in the EU is expected to total an estimated €8.3 billion by the end of 2020, with the highest annual spending in Germany at an estimated €1.83 billion.
The report projects the EU CBD market will grow to reach €13.6 billion by 2020 – but only without regulatory changes.
In July 2020 the European Commission (EC) suspended applications for CBD to be included in its Novel Food Catalogue, stating the cannabinoid and other extracts from hemp flowers would be better regulated as narcotics under the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
No final decisions have been made, but if it goes ahead the ruling would not only make it ‘impossible for the market to exist in its current form’, but also limit cannabinoid research and innovation throughout the continent, the report argues.
Researchers warned that the increasing demand for CBD coupled with the fact that most sales take place online, could create an unregulated ‘grey market’ and a risk of contaminated or low-quality products, improper labeling, and unfounded marketing claims flooding the market and potentially ‘endangering public health’.
A spokesperson for New Frontier Data explained: “After first deciding CBD should be classified as a novel food in the EU, the EC is now considering whether CBD is a narcotic, citing the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
“Synthetically derived CBD would still qualify for novel food status as the UN convention only bans cannabinoids harvested from the flowering tops of the cannabis plant.
At the same time, the report noted that thanks to Brexit, the future looks brighter for UK producers, as the Food Standards Agency will continue to consider CBD as novel foods.
They continued: “The UK seems to be clearing a regulatory pathway for CBD products as it drifts out of the EC’s jurisdiction, as the UK Home Office has explicitly stated that CBD is not a narcotic, and CBD is now under the jurisdiction of the UK Food Standards Agency.”
New Frontier founder and CEO Giadha DeCarcer added that the EC decision would lead to objections from producers and may ramp up pressure on the UN to reclassify cannabis, which could have a significant impact beyond CBD.
“Despite existing regulatory hurdles, demand for CBD in Europe continues to grow quickly as consumers embrace this cannabinoid for medical and general wellness, creating opportunities for large food and beverage and health and beauty brands,” she commented.
“This provisionary conclusion will likely trigger objections and may increase pressure to amend the UN Single Convention to remove cannabis from its prohibited classification.
“That would have implications far beyond extracts, potentially reshaping the future of higher-THC cannabis in Europe.”
- Cancer survivor claims cannabis oil helped her beat brain tumour
- Labour MPs call for possible regulation of a legalised cannabis market
- CBD in Europe – what does the future look like?
- ‘Failure’ to embrace medical cannabis has caused “preventable deaths” – report
- “I’m not a bad person” – chronically ill woman convicted of growing medical cannabis
- Medical cannabis companies given green light for UK stock market in ‘long overdue’ move
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