Medical Use of Cannabis

Marijuana's Medicinal Properties

The debate over the medical use of cannabis is highly controversial. Supporters claim cannabis has wide ranging health benefits while anti drugs campaigners warn it is potentially dangerous with serious side effects.

The drug's medicinal ability to ease the pain and discomfort of patients suffering from a wide range of serious conditions is scientifically widely known:

  • For cancer patients - it can ease nausea brought on by chemotherapy
  • For AIDS patients - it increases the appetite to counteract weight loss
  • For glaucoma sufferers - it can relieve pressure on the eye
  • For MS patients - it relieves muscle pain

The pro cannabis lobby claims the drug is useful in treating depression and mood swings. Opponents believe the side effects of the drug, which contains more than 400 chemicals, make it too dangerous to be considered for use in mainstream medicine.

Medical Use of Cannabis: Trials and Tests

For every research project that concludes cannabis is good for you another claims it's bad.

Clinical trials at the James Paget Hospital in Norfolk , England , revealed that cannabis eased the symptoms of ten out of 13 multiple sclerosis sufferers. Clinical tests performed by the MS Society in Britain showed that most patients responded positively to cannabis.

At the same time, however, researchers at New Zealand 's asthma and respiratory foundation found that smoking cannabis five times a week did as much damage to the lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes.

In the United States the movement to legalise cannabis for medicinal use is gaining momentum. A poll in 1999 saw 73% of Americans support its prescribed use and more than 50% of US cancer specialists have recommended that patients smoke dope to ease chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Despite the fact the drug is still illegal in the US , cannabis clubs are springing up throughout the nation. Sufferers with all kinds of conditions ranging from MS to cancer can turn up and smoke a joint. The Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Centre, which has its own plantation, caters for nearly 800 people recommended by licensed doctors.

Legality vs Medical Use of Cannabis

Many countries and the United Nations, however, have so far refused to accept that cannabis has a medical application.

Countries such as the UK are awaiting the outcome of clinical trials before coming off the fence. GW Pharmaceuticals, the UK company granted exclusive licence to cultivate cannabis for medicinal puposes, has finished its trials and hopes to obtain regulatory approval to license the manufacture and sales of a cannabis based medicine shortly. Read more here

Other countries have already cleared cannabis for medicinal use. In July 2001 Canada became the first country in the world to legalise the drug for medicinal purposes. Any Canadian is legally entitled to use the drug if they have a doctor's certificate and two legal witness to confirm that they have a terminal illness, AIDS, MS, arthritis, cancer, epilepsy or degenerative bone disease.

Since November 2000 New South Wales in Australia has allowed the terminally ill to grow up to five plants for personal use. In Belgium , cannabis is allowed to treat the side effects of chemotherapy and the symptoms of AIDS and MS.

In the Netherlands , people with various medical conditions have been able to buy cannabis in one of the many cannabis cafés for more than ten years - the Dutch Ministry estimates that up to 7,000 people are using it for medicinal purposes. Those living in Luxembourg can possess it so long as they are not near children. In Israel a small number of people have been granted permission to use it for medical purposes by the Health Ministry and in countries such a Portugal and Germany personal use is acceptable.

As the legalisation debate rages on, it seems increasingly likely that the medical use of cannabis will gain widespread acceptance. Dr Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School believes that it will one day be seen as the "wonder drug of the 21 st century."


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