The Irish Times
November 11, 1998
Britain: Cannabis should be available on prescription to fight serious illness, a House of Lords committee said yesterday. Cannabis can and should be used to relieve the suffering of terminally ill cancer patients and multiple sclerosis victims, according to a Lords science and technology committee report.
Its findings, published today, have been widely welcomed by patients, politicians and even, guardedly, by anti-drugs campaigners. However, the British Medical Association, which represents UK doctors, says making cannabis available on prescription would be a misguided move which could prevent new, more effective drugs being developed.
Currently listed as a Schedule 1 drug, cannabis can be used only in research. The Lords committee believes it should be switched to Schedule 2, allowing doctors and pharmacists to dispense it immediately rather than waiting years for the results of clinical trials.
The chairman, Liberal Democrat Lord Perry of Walton, told a Westminster news conference evidence that cannabis could fight pain justified a change in the law.
Lord Perry (77) told journalists: "Before any of you ask us if we have ever smoked pot, the answer is that we're not going to tell you. It's not relevant to the inquiry . . . But cannabis can be used to reduce the amount of morphine or heroin that is used for terminal conditions like cancer. This is clearer now than it was 25 years ago."
However, the BMA wants more trials to discover which of the 60plus cannabinoids contained in the plant have therapeutic uses and which may have adverse effects.
Sir William Asscher, chair of the Association's Board of Science and Education, said he understood the "humanitarian motives" behind the report but could not support it.
"Crude cannabis is a toxic mixture of more than 60 cannabinoids and other ingredients," he said.
"Prescribing it will not add to our knowledge. It will detract from the development of scientifically based and more beneficial new drugs."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We will study the report with interest. We realise there is conflicting evidence as to whether or not cannabis related materials are suitable for medicinal use.
"Any medicinal use of a chemical product would have to go through the licensing process of the Medicines Control Agency.
"We don't entirely rule it out at this stage but we will keep it under review and respond to their Lordships in due course." The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said individual active ingredients should be identified rather than simply prescribing cannabis. But a spokeswoman said the society would welcome reclassifying it as a Schedule 2 drug to make medical trials easier.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society endorsed the findings but said hospital specialists, not GPs, should be responsible for prescribing the drug.
"In the meantime, we hope prosecuting authorities and courts will deal compassionately with people with MS who are using cannabis," a spokesperson said.
Labour MP Mr Paul Flynn, whose wife Samantha has endured a year of painful chemotherapy which he says could have been relieved by cannabis use, described the proposals as "splendid".
It would help patients who gain relief from cannabis escape the "worst of all possible worlds" where they relied on criminals for an unreliable and illegal supply of beneficial medicine, he said.
If cannabis is legalised as medicine, the Lords do not envisage it being smoked, and they are calling for research into other ways of taking it.
The Times (UK)
Wednesday, November 11 1998
BY JAMES LANDALE, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
DOCTORS should be permitted to prescribe cannabis for medical use, a House of Lords committee is to propose today. The peers will urge the Government to act swiftly to lift the ban, so that thousands of people can take the drug to alleviate pain.
Although the proposals from the Lords Science and Technology Committee will undoubtedly be supported by many sufferers, they are unlikely to secure the backing of Jack Straw, the Home Secretary. The Government is acutely sensitive to the whole issue and any relaxation of the law is unlikely in the short term.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1985, cannabis is a Schedule One drug and all use is banned, except for licensed research. The Lords Science and Technology Committee recommends that it be reclassified as a Schedule Two drug.
The committee admits that there is no conclusive proof that cannabis has medical value but says there is enough anecdotal evidence that it can be used to treat multiple sclerosis and particular types of pain. It says that trials should begin at once on cannabis as a treatment for MS and chronic pain and calls for research into ways of administering it other than smoking.
George Howarth, a Home Office Minister, rejected the recommendation and insisted that further clinical trials were needed. "The Government would not be prepared to countenance any move to allow prescription before clinical trials and safety tests have been completed," he said.
The committee argues that the regulations should be relaxed immediately on compassionate grounds. The tests could last for some time and it could be years before any cannabis was available for use. Without it, 85,000 MS suffers would continue to face the symptoms of their disease without relief. The committee rejects claims that allowing cannabis for medical purposes will lead to further legalisation. The peers say their changes would prevent sufferers risking prosecution and help police to concentrate on people using the drug for illegal recreational uses.
Lord Perry of Walton, the committee chairman and a former professor of pharmacology, said: "We have seen enough evidence to convince us that a doctor might legitimately want to prescribe cannabis to relieve pain, or the symptoms of MS, and that the criminal law ought not to stand in the way. Our recommendation would make the ban on recreational use easier to enforce. Above all, it would show compassion to patients who currently risk prosecution to get help."
The British Medical Association backed the committee's call for clinical trials but opposed rescheduling the drug.
The Guardian (UK)
Wednesday November 11, 1998
Who says scientists should not use common sense? The House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology caused a considerable kerfuffle in scientific circles yesterday. They concluded in their latest report that there is insufficient scientific evidence to prove the medical value of cannabis but even so recommended that the Government should reclassify the drug to allow doctors to prescribe it as an unlicensed medicine on a named-patient basis. This was not a collection of hereditary nobodies but a notable panel heavily weighted with distinguished medical scientists (a biologist, chemist, physicist, medical researcher, neurologist, pathologist and practising fertility specialist) advised by Oxford University's visiting professor of pharmacology. In an unequivocal conclusion they declare: "We have received enough anecdotal evidence to convince us that cannabis almost certainly does have genuine medical applications, especially in treating the painful muscular spasms and other symptoms of MS and in the control of other forms of pain."
The British Medical Association was not amused. It criticised the Lords for failing to distinguish between the active constituents of cannabis and cannabis itself. It noted cannabis had many toxic ingredients and 60-plus cannabinoids. It believed there should be no change to its legal position until further research had established which cannabinoids had therapeutic value so that new cannabis-based drugs could be developed. It opposed the use of crude cannabis because of the "unpredictable nature of its effects". But "unpredictable" is the wrong word. Although there is only one small clinical trial on the medical benefits of cannabis there is a mountain of evidence from MS sufferers that cannabis does ease their pain. The reason why cannabis has these effects may be "unknown" but the effects are not "unpredictable". This was one of the reasons why the Lords came out in support of using the drug. Even the medic about to conduct the clinical trials into cannabis, who spoke out against the report yesterday, conceded the anecdotal evidence was impressive.
The Lords should be congratulated for listening to patients rather than researchers. Cannabis was used medically for centuries before being overtaken by more powerful drugs but it still provides relief for a small category of ailments where modern drugs have little effect. Knowing why it works would be helpful but making it illegal until we know why is wrong.
The Guardian (UK)
Wednesday November 11, 1998
http://reports.guardian.co.uk/articles/1998/11/11/p-32608.html [adresse plus valide]
By Sarah Boseley, Health Correspondent
Doctors should be legally allowed to prescribe cannabis for multiple sclerosis sufferers and other patients who find it helps relieve pain, says a report from a scientific committee of the House of Lords, published today.
The report was hailed as courageous by patients who buy the drug on the streets and smoke it in fear of the law.
Its findings were backed by pharmacists, but rejected by the British Medical Association, representing doctors. Government departments promptly let it be known that they would not lift the ban on a drug that has not undergone clinical trials.
The House of Lords select committee on Science and Technology accepted the lack of "rigorous scientific evidence" for the pain-relieving properties of cannabis. But, said the chairman, Lord Perry of Walton, they were making their recommendation "primarily for compassionate reasons".
As a Schedule 1 drug, cannabis is deemed to have no therapeutic value, and is not available to medicine. The Lords want it moved to Schedule 2, which would mean pharmacists could supply it and doctors could prescribe it, although it would not be licensed.
Lord Perry, one of the majority of well-respected scientists and academics on the committee, said that "the evidence that I relieves pain, especially neorological pain, is quite convincing", even though most of it is anecdotal.
Although serious clinical trials will begin in January, Lord Perry said it would take five years before cannabis or its derivatives would be licensed as a medicine.
"We consider there is sufficient evidence of medicinal benefit to many patients to make it unjustifiable and inhumane to make them wait so long," he said.
Since the only effective way to deliver cannabis to the brain swiftly is through smoking it at the moment, the Lords are even prepared to countenance its prescription for use in a joint, although they urged research into inhalation and other methods.
They urged the Government to take a lead in Europe and reschedule cannabis now, but the Department of Health and the Home Office poured cold water on the idea. "The Government would not be prepared to countenance any movement to allow prescription before clinical trials and safety tests have been concluded," said a Home Office spokeswoman. The Department of Health said that any drug to be used in patient treatment must be licensed by the Medicines Control Agency "and you can't do that with a Schedule 1 drug".
But the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which will be running the trials in January, agrees with the Lords, as long as a standardised cannabis product can be produced - not a weed which can vary in strength.
Clare Hodges, from the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, who suffers from multiple sclerosis herself, said she was delighted with the report. "I think they have shown great compassion and great bravery," she said.
Sir William Asscher, chairman of the BMA's Board of Science and Education, said he understood the Lords' humanitarian motives but could not support them. "Crude cannabis is a toxic mixture of more than 60 cannabinoids and other ingredients," he said.
The Independent (UK)
Wednesday 11 November 1998
By Sarah Schaefer Political Reporter
The likelihood of cannabis being legalised for medical use increased yesterday after a powerful Lords committee said it would be "unjustified" and "inhumane" to delay clinical trials of the drug further.
Peers recommended an urgent change in the law to allow derivatives of the drug to be used for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. The 53-page report from the Lords' Science and Technology Committee concluded an eight-month inquiry. It will put pressure on the Government to relax the blanket ban on cannabis, which has lasted for the past 25 years.
The Department of Health has always insisted evidence of the medical benefits of cannabis was too weak to justify a relaxation of the law.
But the committee said that it has been persuaded that cannabis should be moved from its listing as a Schedule 1 drug, where it cannot be used except in research, to Schedule 2, allowing doctors and pharmacists to supply it on prescription.
Lord Perry of Walton, the committee's chairman, said clinical trials of cannabis should be mounted "as a matter of urgency for compassionate reasons" as thousands of patients could be helped. "It would be unjustified and inhumane to make them wait much longer," he said.
The committee was less convinced about the drug's effectiveness in tackling other conditions, including epilepsy, glaucoma and asthma, but Lord Perry made clear it would be at doctors' discretion when to prescribe the drug.
He denied the legalisation of cannabis for medical use would be the first step towards the
decriminalisation of the drug for recreational use, saying they were "completely separate matters".
Lord Perry, who is 77, said: "Before any of you ask us if we have ever smoked pot, the answer is that we're not going to tell you. It's not relevant to the inquiry. But cannabis can be used to reduce the amount of morphine or heroin that is used for terminal conditions like cancer."
Pulp Fiction glamorised drug-taking so much it may have increased heroin abuse, the outgoing British Board of Film Classification director, James Ferman, said yesterday. Some scenes in Quentin Tarantino's cult film were "practically an advertisement" for heroin, Mr Ferman told the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence. "We didn't cut the film, and I don't know, looking back, whether that was a good idea," he said.
Pubdate: Saturday, 14 Nov 1998
Source: British Medical Journal 1 (Volume 317, Issue 7169)
Copyright: 1998 by the British Medical Journal
Reviewer: Douglas Carnall
Reviews WEBSITE OF THE WEEK
The UK Cannabis Internet Activists met on line back in 1995, taught themselves HTML (the markup language used by all web browsers), and got to work on building a site that is clearly organised and nice to look at. A site edited by partisans must be interpreted with caution, but the approach seems responsible and incorporates links or references to information from many reputable sources.
These include the BMA, whose report recommending a change in the law to allow research on the use of cannabinoids in chronic illness, published almost a year ago to the day, has plainly been influential. This week the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee concurs (p 1337), and there seems little doubt that change in the law will follow. Events in the United States are moving in the same direction, following pressure from groups such as the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp ( http://www.crrh.org/ ). A total of seven states covering a fifth of the nation's population have directly contradicted federal drug laws in recent referendums. Far more sites argue for reform than for the status quo: despite an assiduous morning's browsing on a high speed network, anti-drug sites proved elusive. On the internet at least, those fighting the war on the "war on drugs" are definitely winning.
While advocacy abounds, hard scientific evidence about cannabis is hard to find. There are, for example, no trials reported at http://www.controlled-trials.com/, although its presence refutes earlier reports ( http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/317/7167/1258/c ) that the website does not exist. Hint for press officers: if you want to publicise your website take care to supply the correct URL.
Information on the state and topic discussion lists supported by DrugSense is at:
The Independent (UK)
Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Sir: With the publication of the Lords report on medicinal cannabis, I thought it prudent as a cannabis-using multiple sclerosis sufferer and a representative of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, to present the views of the people most affected by the blanket prohibition of cannabis.
There are thousands of sick people throughout the UK using cannabis and finding it of benefit for many illnesses. If we carry on using cannabis we are leaving ourselves open to criminal
prosecution, but if we obey the law and desist from the practice we are faced with the very real possibility of our condition worsening.
It must be understood that we are not hedonistic, irresponsible teenagers, but ill people who find themselves in the absurd position of being denied the one effective means of palliative treatment available to them by, in many cases, the party they had supported at the general election. It is disturbing that instead of endeavouring to institute objective research into the medicinal properties of pure cannabis, the Government, without scientific justification, seems to take some satisfaction in denying us this vital medication.
I did not expect, or intend, to be in conflict with my own government at this point in my life - MS itself is a daunting foe - but this government must surely have the wisdom to understand that we are no threat to society's stability, but just incurably ill people wishing to treat themselves as they, and in most cases their doctors, see fit. It is an absurdity, if not an obscenity, to be forced to seek our medication from criminal sources.
ANDREW COLDWELL, Huddersfield, West
P R E S S R E L E A S E . London 10/11/98.
May Day 1999 International Cannabis Coalition
We need to completely legalise cannabis as a matter of urgency - for the protection and benefit of the public's health.
It is to be welcomed that the British 'House of Lords' have finally accepted that Cannabis has considerable medical value. This is something that herbalists have known for hundreds if not thousands of years. It's value has been officially denied until now, although Queen Victoria used it on the recommendation of her doctor.
The legalise cannabis lobby in Britain has been finally acknowledged as correct about the medical value of cannabis after years of campaigning. However medical cannabis is far from legal yet.
The Government should now seriously reconsider it's position on the whole issue of cannabis, and the social and public health effects of its prohibition and criminalisation.
Perhaps it should at last listen to the pro cannabis lobby which has also been proved correct on the industrial value of cannabis to the considerable advantage of farmers all over Britain. No one has yet collected the large cash prize on offer to anyone who can identify a plant more valuable than Cannabis. The Hemp variety is now being grown all over Europe on EEC grants.
Could these same people be right on the third main issue surrounding cannabis; its recreational use? After all you can OD on carrots but you can not OD on cannabis.
Let our 'landslide government' turn away from its drug company advisors and pressure from the United States, and seriously consider the possibility.
The facts say they should. Every national poll on the subject says they should. Only fear and corrupt pressure says they should not.
Let the government realise that prohibition is highly dangerous and damaging to our social well being in a number of ways - we have only to look at the corruption recently exposed in the police force to see that. If an M.P. uses cannabis he or she could be blackmailed. Prohibition causes gangsterism, it denies any kind of quality control and it leads to abuse though ignorance. Prohibition contributes to the spread of heroin addiction.
Meanwhile the pharmaceutical company's are obviously positioning themselves to sell medical cannabis to us as pills or patches while personal use and production is kept illegal - when we can easily grow it our selves at no cost to the NHS. The only other people to profit from this are the gangster empires (also multinational) created by prohibition.
Prohibition is a threat to Britain's national health and well being; For medical reasons it should be ended now, here and through out the world.
In the United States people are serving 25 year sentences and more just for a few plants. In Britain 900 people a year are given prison sentances and 25,000 are prosecuted. Many more are cautioned by the police, persecuted at work and live in fear just because they want to enjoy a simple and honest pleasure.
"It is our moral and civic duty to oppose an unjust Law" - Martin Luther King
This is why on May 1st 1999 people in Britain and all over the world will be demanding the urgent legalisation of cannabis worldwide.
For more details see: http://www.schmoo.co.uk/mayday.htm email@example.com
Tel Chris Saunder 44 (0)956 385965
Daily Telegraph (UK)
Wednesday 11 November 1998
By Polly Newton, Political Staff
A CALL today by peers for cannabis to be legalised for medicinal use will be rejected by the Government despite pleas from multiple sclerosis sufferers who say the drug helps them to cope with the disease.
In a report published this morning, the House of Lords science and technology committee urges the Government to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for pain relief. The committee says ministers should not wait for the results of clinical trials, which are only just beginning and will last for several years.
But George Howarth, the Home Office minister, said the Government would not be prepared to allow the prescription of cannabis before research had proved it safe. "The safety of patients is our priority, and the Government would not allow prescription of any drug which had not been tested for safety, efficacy and quality through that clinical process." He said they supported further trials into the benefits of cannabis for MS and chronic pain.
The committee said there should be no lifting of the ban on the recreational use of cannabis, a recommendation that was welcomed by Mr Howarth. Lord Perry of Walton, the committee chairman, acknowledged that the recommendations might attract controversy.
He said: "It would be out of step with quite a lot of countries, but we think it
would be a good thing if the Government showed a lead."
The Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates that at least 1,000 of the 85,000 sufferers in Britain use cannabis to alleviate their symptoms.
Campaigners for the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes welcomed the committee's conclusions. Clare Hodges, of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, who has MS, said the committee had shown compassion and bravery in its recommendations.
The Guardian (UK)
Wednesday November 11, 1998
Sarah Boseley on the radical nature of the Lords committee's recommendation that doctors should be able to prescribe cannabis
Scientific evidence that cannabis relieves the pain of multiple sclerosis sufferers and others does not exist. The House of Lords select committee on science and technology admits this in its report, published this morning.
That is why it is extraordinary that the committee, as an independent group made up mostly of scientists, wants doctors to be allowed to prescribe cannabis to patients.
The report is radical and represents a big departure from the position of the British Medical Association, which backed trials of cannabinoids - derivatives of the cannabis plant - last year but is firmly opposed to the use of cannabis itself, which it says is full of toxins. But multiple sclerosis and cancer patients who smoke dope because it relieves the pain, and - in MS - reduces spasms, say that the cannabinoids in tablet form so far developed do not have anything like the swift and effective impact of the real thing, smoked in a joint.
The committee believes them, and feels it is wrong that those in pain should have to break the law and that their doctors should be under pressure to connive with them. The committee says that its recommendation is not scientific, but compassionate.
Medical use of cannabis was only made illegal in this country in 1973. Before that, as the peers point out, "it has been used medically for thousands of years in oriental and Middle Eastern countries". Nobody has been killed by cannabis, which is generally accepted to be less toxic than alcohol.
The committee states that "in all the evidence we have received, there is not enough rigorous scientific evidence to prove conclusively that cannabis itself has, or indeed has not, medical value of any kind." Members had been convinced not by scientific proof, but by "anecdotal evidence".
They want cannabis to be made available legally to patients and quickly. That desire has put them in a difficult position. No standardised plant extract has yet been produced - as users know, batch strengths on the street vary enormously - and no effective way of taking it other than smoking, which the peers do not want to endorse, has been developed.
They have taken the only logical route towards their goal. They have suggested, in effect, that doctors should write out a prescription for the patient to pick up his resin and his Rizlas at the local pharmacy.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which is about to start clinical trials, agrees with the committee - in fact, they say, they said it first.
The RPS would like to see doctors allowed to prescribe cannabis, but they point out that pharmacies would not be supplying the sort of cannabis that is smuggled in the soles of people's shoes from Morocco or traded in cafes in Amsterdam.
If cannabis were moved from schedule 1, where it ranks as an illegal drug of abuse with no therapeutic use, to schedule 2, to become a controlled drug which can be prescribed under some circumstances, manufacturers would be able to produce and supply to chemists a standardised product.
Tony Moffat, the RPS's chief scientist, says the society believes the way ahead lies in cannabinoids - the active ingredients - rather than the whole plant, which he describes as "a pharmacologically dirty substance. When you ingest cannabis you take in hundreds of compounds, some of which may do harm and some of which may be helpful. What we need to do is isolate the useful cannabinoids and that is why we need more research."
But the two-year clinical trials, to be launched in January, will examine both. Groups of volunteers, probably with MS, will take either the cannabinoid THC, which scientists think is responsible for the drug's pain-relieving effects, or an extract of the whole plant, or a placebo.
The results could be crucial. At the moment, most European countries take the line of the World Health Organisation that cannabis has no therapeutic value and is only a drug of abuse. Under a WHO convention, Europe agrees to ban its use by doctors. But if the RPS trials prove there is therapeutic use, then the WHO line will probably change and the way will be open for medicinal use everywhere.
The peers think Britain should not wait. "We consider that the Government should not be afraid to give a lead in this matter in a responsible way," says the report. But they also urge that the clinical trials should get going as fast as possible.
While they suggest that smoking cannabis would be acceptable for the time being in patients who need immediate pain relief, they say that this is not satisfactory in the long run. They recommend research into other ways of taking it, such as inhalation, "which would retain the benefit of rapid absorption offered by smoking, without the adverse effects".
Unfortunately, cannabis taken orally is degraded by the liver before much of it can reach the brain, where it has its effects.
According to the UK Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, the drug is probably used by several hundred people suffering from MS, although they may amount to no more than 1 per cent of those with the disease. Others who use it have spinal injuries, back pain, chronic arthritis, epilepsy and ME. The cannabinoids Nabilone and Dronabil are prescribed by some doctors for the nausea that follows chemotherapy for cancer. But ACT believes more people in this category smoke cannabis itself.
For immediate release
The Green Party welcomes the statement of the obvious from the Lords that cannabis can have a positive medical effect. While this is certainly not new news to drug activists and the thousands of sufferers of MS, Glaucoma, and the side effects of chemotherapy, it will be to the Department of Health.
Shane Collins, Green Party Spokesperson on Drugs said "This report will put welcome pressure on the government to allow cannabis for medical use, however we feel an opportunity has been lost by not looking at the stress relieving and recreational uses of cannabis. The prohibition of drugs has created a vast criminal network which has massively increased the number of people using and abusing drugs. The governments own figures suggest that 30-50% of crime is drug related. It is time to think the unthinkable and recognise that prohibition has failed." Contact: Shane Collins
Green Party Drugs Group Spokesperson
0181 671 5936
Notes to the editor: Green Party Policy is to decriminalise cannabis and allow people to grow their own. We are also in favour of the Dutch Coffee Shop system of distribution to separate recreational drugs like cannabis from the physically addictive and crime causing drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine.
Green Party Drugs Group
Tel: +44 (0)181 671 5936