Cannabis prescriptions for pain relief on the NHS? It’s about time

Britain may lead the world on a lot of issues, but not on having a sensitive evidence-led drugs policy. That may be about to change.

Around 5,000 people across the country will be given cannabis inhalers for treatment for their chronic pain, in a study by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). It is the first such large-scale study in the UK, possibly the world. Medical research on cannabis has long been eschewed due to its illegal status across the world, but without medical research we cannot take a proper evidence-led approach.

The Times reported this week that the clinical trial could pave the way for millions of Britons who suffer from chronic pain to get cannabis-based relief through the NHS — for which NICE has created guidelines. This is long overdue.

Cannabis is rapidly being legalized across North America and Europe. The majority of Americans now live in states that have legalized it in some form, while Canadians already benefit from complete legalization and Mexico is also in the process of moving towards that status. Malta became the first European nation to legalize it in 2021. Germany’s new government is committed to legalisation, while Spain is debating it too. (Disclosure: I’m a on the board of Volteface, the leading drugs reform advocacy group in Britain).

The study by NICE should offer current evidence for what many people across the world have known for thousands of years: cannabis can help with pain relief. Chronic pain was the most common reason for obtaining a medical cannabis license in the US, with up to 100 million Americans thought to be suffering from the condition.

See also  Dean Richards changing roles at Newcastle Falcons after 10 years as director of rugby

One point is now undeniable: the sky hasn’t fallen in since cannabis was fully legalized in the US state of Colorado (a decade ago), in California (in 2016) and across all of Canada (in 2018). Teenagers there haven’t become addicted either — around 80 per cent in a recent poll in Denver, Colorado, said they didn’t consume the substance.

The NICE study may also help to prevent America’s opioid crisis by reaching our shores. It’s worth remembering that the United States has long been suffering from an opioid addiction and overdose crisis, after doctors went overboard in prescribing them for chronic pain. By 2012 doctors had prescribed enough opioids to give every adult in America a bottle of pills. The result? An epidemic only overshadowed by the Covid crisis.

In theory, cannabis should be a much better solution. It is less addictive than opioids — in fact even less addictive than nicotine —and far less deadly. You cannot overdose from cannabis as you can from opioids or alcohol. There’s also some evidence to suggest that in US states where cannabis is legalized, there are fewer deaths from opioid overdoses (although more research is needed).

In Britain, at least the medical community is picking up and pushing into areas where politicians wouldn’t dare. It’s depressing that the UK is still largely stuck in a political cul-de-sac on the issue. While the Labor party is doing some excellent work behind the scenes, led by the Labor Campaign for Drug Policy Reform, they are stymied by the leadership. Keir Starmer is fearful of looking too soft on crime, a charge often hung around Labour’s neck, and hence avoiding the issue. But many of his key allies of him are advocates for change, including David Lammy MP (shadow foreign secretary) and London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. But the party would rather the Conservatives take the lead instead.

See also  'I was the prey of a predator': Woman subjected to 'relentless grooming' by Met police officer

The problem there is that while Boris Johnson may look like the perfect Tory leader to introduce drugs reform, he has pointedly ignored the issue. Perhaps he believes it’s not a priority for the public, or that it will not go down well in conservative areas. But despite a growing number of senior Tory figures calling for a reform, little progress has been made.

The fact is, British public opinion is no longer where it was. Britons say they would support the legalization of cannabis, by 52 per cent to 32 per cent, according to a poll last year. When it comes to the long overdue reform of drug policy, our politicians are not the leaders they claim to be.

Related Posts

George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.