Bill to legalise medicinal cannabis clears first hurdle, but will it go further?

Campaigners for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis are this week celebrating a small victory. Legalisation could help people with multiple sclerosis and other diseases but, realistically, there’s little chance it will become law


Paul Flynn MP.

Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West and patron of the United Patients Alliance (UPA) presented a 10-Minute Rule Motion in the UK parliament’s House of Commons. Its purpose is to legalise the use of cannabis as a medicine.

UPA supporters, who gathered outside, took delighted when the bill gained its first reading. This is the first step on a long journey of any bill to pass into law.

The UPA aims to make sure everyone who might benefit from cannabis, to improve their quality of life, have access to it without the risk of criminalisation or stigmatisation.

Its website says: “We would see a legal, regulated supply of cannabis for patients so that they can use it safely, with knowledge of strain and dosage and with the best knowledge on healthy modes of intake and ways of medicating with cannabis.”uld see a legal, regulated supply of cannabis for patients so that they can use it safely, with knowledge of strain and dosage and with the best knowledge on healthy modes of intake and ways of medicating with cannabis.

In pursuit of this, the UPA organised a peaceful demonstration outside parliament, in the form of a ‘cannabis tea party’. It highlighted how the drug acts as pain relief for those with chronic and fatal illnesses.

The UK currently bans the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Sativex spray is the only exception.

Across the world, medicinal cannabis, or marijuana, is legal in many places including Canada and Uruguay. It is also legal in a number of states in America as it in some European countries.

Legalising cannabis – intelligent and compassionate

Flynn joined the tea party, and said: “We have to say to the government, for goodness sake, catch up with the rest of the world and allow a responsible legal market to operate to replace a market that’s illegal and dangerous.

cannabis“It’s political cowardice, they’re afraid of being mocked on this, but I’m afraid politicians don’t get credit for acting intelligently. This is the intelligent and compassionate thing to do. The law is an ass.”

Flynn has named his proposal The Elizabeth Brice Bill, named after a multiple sclerosis patient who died in 2011. She has been a long-time campaigner for legalising cannabis for medical purposes and started the UK branch of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics. She and Flynn are said to have drunk cannabis tea together, in parliament, many years ago.

The next stage of the lawmaking process is the Second Reading. This has been set for Friday, February 23.

Bills introduced by MPs under the Ten-Minute Rule don’t often progress much further. Most stimulate publicity for, or seek the house’s opinion about, an issue which may later feature in another bill.

However, not all Ten-Minute Rule bills fail. Some do become law. Indeed, since 1945, more than 60 of them have become Acts of Parliament.

Perhaps, one day, UK drug laws may change but don’t expect Paul Flynn’s bill to achieve that. Sadly, there are too many MPs prepared to oppose it.

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.


Consider lifestyle and alternative medicines for MS

Professor Allen C Bowling.

Professor Allen C Bowling.

Marijuana, diets, supplements and alcohol took centre stage during a symposium at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers, in Maryland, USA.

Professor Allen C Bowling, an internationally recognised neurologist, claimed that lifestyle and unconventional medicine are “under recognised and underutilised tools” when working with MS.

As part of the symposium Expanding the MS toolkit: Integrating Lifestyle factors and unconventional medicine into MS clinical care, Prof Bowling made a presentation called Marijuana update, diets ad dietary supplements, alcohol use.

He believes that lifestyle and MS are linked, either directly or indirectly.

According to Bowling, lifestyle medicine refers to “daily habits and practices [such as diet] that are incorporated into conventional medical care to prevent or treat disease,” whereas unconventional medicine refers to “therapies that are generally not taught at medical schools or provided in hospitals.”

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are also popular — in fact, about 50 – 70% of MS patients use CAM, he said.

Prof Bowling believes that integrative medicine is the best option, where there is “integration of lifestyle, unconventional and conventional medicine, but also emphasizes health and wellness of the whole person, [and is] supportive of the clinician-patient relationship.”

He said that MS can be a lifestyle motivator due to the suffering associated with the condition.

Concerning diet, he referred to salt as “one of single greatest dietary harms to health,” noting that the average American consumes about 4,000 mg a day, when the recommended dose is 1,500 to 2,300 mg a day. Obesity is also a concern, and an increased MS risk has been associated with childhood/adolescent obesity.

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” he advised.

Marijuana, now legalised in several countries and some US states, was also discussed. According to Bowling, “marijuana improves [relief of] pain, spasticity, sleep. Side effects are well-documented, well-tolerated,” but he added that the “problem is the formulations.” He noted that concerns exist about standardisation, preparation and purity of medical marijuana.

As far as alcohol is concerned, Bowling said there is “no definitive effect on MS risk, health-related quality of life [or] disability.” He added that some studies have shown that “moderation [is] better than abstention.”

He advises, however, that alcohol can have an effect on MS patients in terms of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts – and that its side effects may cause “decreased alertness/cognition, increased reaction times, incoordination, gait difficulties and fatigue.”


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