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It's high time medicinal cannabis was worthy of political debate


Serious issue: a woman smoking cannabis

Serious issue: a woman smoking cannabis

Glenn Donnelly CISTA

Glenn Donnelly CISTA

Professor Manuel Guzman of Madrid University

Professor Manuel Guzman of Madrid University


Serious issue: a woman smoking cannabis

Expect something different in the way of party political broadcasts shortly. You can look forward to a few minutes of people talking about why they are taking cannabis, not flags, parades, or corporation tax. It won't be to everyone's taste, but the BBC has confirmed it will take place soon.

We are the one region of the UK where the CISTA party (Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol) qualifies for a party political broadcast and I've had a sneak preview of the script.

It opens with a bold statement: "Throughout Northern Ireland, there are people suffering in silence from painful and debilitating conditions. These people are risking their safety and their freedom to receive a basic human right. The right to medical treatment. Most people in Britain believe current drugs policy puts vulnerable people at unnecessary risk. The war on drugs has become a war on people."

It recommends cannabis for the alleviation of medical problems, including Aids, cancer pain, chemotherapy side-effects, Crohn's disease, epilepsy, sickle cell anaemia and spinal injury pain. A cannabis compound called Sativex is already legal in the UK and can be prescribed in some cases of multiple sclerosis.

A few patients appear. One of them is Glenn Donnelly, a CISTA candidate who, worked in the cannabis industry in Canada, where cultivation is allowed and appeal courts normally free people selling, or using, it for medical purposes.

Mr Donnelly says: "As a chronic pain sufferer, I have been prescribed pharmaceutical opiates. I was prescribed Tramadol, which then gave me seizures as one of the side-effects. And currently I'm being prescribed Fentanyl, which is a heavily addictive opiate. I personally would not like to be on these opiates."

So, there is a question of patient choice here, but there is also medical research, particularly into brain tumours, which show some promising results that can be followed up with further tests.

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One of them is Professor Manuel Guzman at the University of Madrid, whom I wrote to when I was diagnosed with a rare cancer called PMP. I wanted to see if I would be suitable for trials after I was told even the strongest chemo (folfox with oxyplatin) was unlikely to have a positive effect.

He replied: "The anti-tumour effect of cannabinoids has been proven in some models of cancer [not PMP] in rats and mice, but still not in humans. This said, I believe that there is nothing to lose if testing cannabinoids in a cancer patient as you.

"The legal way would be asking your doctors to get the compassive use of Sativex, a cannabis-derived oral spray that is approved in many countries of the world for the treatment of multiple sclerosis."

After talking to my medical advisers, this isn't an option, except perhaps post-operative, and I don't know if it would help.

More research will come in now that it is being funded by the drug company which produces Sativex and there is a commercial reason to carry it out.

They are funding some in the University of London, which has extended Professor Guzman's funding and detected a positive effect on some brain tumours in humans when combined with established treatments.

Just this week - in Israel, of all places - a further 10 farmers were given permits to cultivate medical marijuana and it is a well-established industry in parts of the US where it is taxed, something that is also likely to produce research. The medical version turns out to differ from the one sold as a recreational drug. It is selectively bred to produce more of a substance called CBD, which is said not to be intoxicating.

It is foolish to second guess medical tests, but CISTA are raising an interesting issue that doesn't normally feature in our political debates. They are calling for a Royal Commission to look at the whole issue.

Now, if they were kingmakers in a hung parliament the stakes would be "high". Sorry, couldn't resist.