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3 September 2007

Legalise medicinal cannabis!

The editor of Disability Now argues the case for cannabis accepting there are some risks as

By John Pring

It is not unusual for the voices of disabled people to be drowned out when an issue affecting them erupts in the national media.

But in the wake of new research linking cannabis use with a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, the mainstream media’s failure to seek the views of disabled people has been even more marked than usual.

Most importantly, those fuelling the debate have failed to note that cannabis possesses pain relief properties.

Following the latest delays to regulatory approval for the cannabis-based drug Sativex, the new eruption of controversy will surely only make it more difficult for disabled people to source the safe and affordable cannabis that could ease their pain.

Hundreds of disabled people have contacted Disability Now since we launched our campaign in 1997 to legalise medicinal cannabis, to tell us how much they rely on the drug.

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They don’t want to have to deal with drug dealers, face harassment from the criminal justice system, and risk criminal records and possible prison sentences.

They want a safe, secure way of gaining access to a drug that has a hugely positive impact on their quality of life.

These are the kind of things our readers told us when we asked them whether taking cannabis helps relieve their symptoms:

“None of my prescribed drugs have been as effective as cannabis in relieving my most severe bouts of pain.”

“The pain relief I get greatly improves my mobility.”

“Yes, it makes a big difference to the amount of pain I have.”

“It is the only time I can get relief from pain and am able to get a decent night’s sleep. It also helps me sleep properly and reduces severe depression.”

“It makes a great difference to my mental state, the amount of sleep I get and my muscle spasms.”

“It relieves spasticity, it also helps with bladder control. It’s also a good analgesic.”

“It doesn’t take all of the pain away but it relieves it enough for me to function.”

This is just a small sample of those who have responded to our surveys of medicinal cannabis users over those ten years.

These aren’t voices you will hear at the moment in the national media, partly no doubt because of the reactionary atmosphere stirred up by those who seek to increase the sentences for those who use cannabis.
There are other voices you won’t hear.

In April’s DN, Labour MP Paul Flynn described the prosecution and conviction of a disabled woman for growing and possessing cannabis she used medicinally as “barbaric”. We agree.

His fellow Labour MP, Dr Brian Iddon, whose wife has arthritis, said in the same issue: “It is unbelievable, in the 21st century, that somebody suffering from pain that gets relief from using cannabis and nothing else should be treated harshly by the judicial system.” Again, we agree.

The debate around the possible risks of cannabis has been one-sided and has ignored the proven benefits of the drug for people with conditions such as arthritis, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Disabled people should be free to make up their own minds about the competing benefits and risks of using the drug.

The scientists involved in the new research seem to accept that there is no certainty that cannabis is causing the increased risk of psychosis.

And we should remember that there appears to have been no increase in schizophrenia over the last 40 years, despite the huge increase in cannabis use over that period.

But yes, it is likely that there are some risks of using cannabis, and it seems sensible to warn younger people particularly of the possible dangers.

But don’t all drugs have side-effects? We believe that, for many disabled people who do or could use cannabis medicinally, the potential benefits of using the drug heavily outweigh the risks.

The government should legislate to ensure that disabled people can make up their own minds, free from persecution. It should legalise medicinal cannabis now. Nothing in the latest research alters that conclusion.

John Pring, acting editor, Disability Now newspaper