There is no denying that cannabis is a hot topic lately. In the last few years, a lot has changed with regard to laws surrounding cannabis, as well as public views toward the plant. Cannabis is a Class B drug in the United Kingdom, putting it up there with other harmful, illicit substances. Now, however, there are cries to change cannabis’ status and change the law.
A lot of shifting opinion is down to one thing: CBD. As this food supplement’s popularity grows and grows, the public is beginning to wonder whether cannabis is all that bad. Of course, a lot of distinctions need to be made regarding marijuana and CBD; marijuana is psychoactive and used as a drug, whereas CBD is non-intoxicating and has no recreational use.
Nevertheless, the two have a lot in common. For one, CBD comes from the cannabis plant. The connection between the two has led to a recent surge in support for cannabis, at least in the medical sense. In the past year, a few things have changed in the medical industry, and a lot of it can be traced back to CBD.
So, where did it all begin?
Britain: The World’s Largest Exporter of Medical Marijuana
Downham Market is a small town located in Norfolk. It has a population of about 10,000, and looks just like any other quaint, sleepy town. The only difference is the odour.
In 2017, residents began to become aware of a pungent, distinct scent wafting over into the town. Eventually, it became quite overpowering and covered the town for a few days. At least one citizen called the police about the odour. As it turns out, the smell was drifting over from 18-hectares of greenhouses which produced more than 90 tonnes of cannabis every year.
The most impressive part? All that cannabis was (and still is) completely legal. Despite cannabis’ illicit status, the cannabis grown in these greenhouses was all owned by British Sugar, under a license granted by the Home Office. If this shocks you, you’re in for even more of a surprise.
A UN report from 2018 revealed that Britain is the largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis in the world. This venture dates back to 1998, when GW Pharmaceuticals was granted permission from the Home Office to begin trials using cannabis to treat Multiple Sclerosis. In the years since, GW Pharmaceuticals has developed two cannabis-based drugs to help in the treatment of MS: Epidiolex, and Sativex.
And so it seems that the British government was profiting off medical cannabis, and still not allowing British citizens to use it. The worst part? Very particular people in the government were benefitting from the arrangement. For one, the largest shareholder in GW Pharmaceuticals is Capital Group, which employs Philip May. In case the surname didn’t give it away, Philip is Theresa May’s husband. And then, in 2017, the government appointed Victoria Atkins as the new drugs minister; but as it turns out, her husband is the managing director of British Sugar. As such, Atkins formally refused to answer any questions on marijuana policy. Not ideal from a drugs minister!
Sadly, the public was largely unaware of what was going on. That is, until a few high-profile cases brought attention to the situation.
High-Profile Cases and the Changing of the Law
In 2018, news of ‘medical cannabis’ hit the headlines when an Irish mother attempted to bring cannabis oil home from Canada in order to treat her son. 12-year-old Billy Caldwell suffered from severe epilepsy and related autism, which his mother was planning to treat with cannabis oil. After hearing about how it had helped other children like Charlotte Figi, the girl behind the story of CW Hemp, Charlotte Caldwell had flown to Canada to obtain cannabis oil she could use for Billy.
Related Article: The Difference Between U.S. and UK Laws Regarding CBD
The oil was seized at Heathrow airport, and Billy’s seizures subsequently worsened. His seizures were described as “life-threatening”. Ms Caldwell begged authorities to return the cannabis oil, pleading for “compassion” from hospitals and politicians. According to his family, Billy had previously gone 300 days without a seizure while using the cannabis oil.
Of course, there was public outcry. News hit on various blogs and social media sites that the government was profiting off medical cannabis experts, and yet a 12-year-old boy was dying because he was being refused this same medication.
Eventually, a few politicians came forward and proposed a review of cannabis’ medical status. Among these individuals were William Hague and Home Secretary Sajid Javid. The review was carried out quickly, and Billy was granted his medication (it must be noted, however, that a few days before this article was published, Charlotte Caldwell is once again begging for mercy as Billy’s medication is about to run out and they are not being given more).
Then, on November 1, 2018, UK doctors were given the green light to start prescribing medical cannabis. Here, “medical cannabis” refers to licensed cannabis-derived medications, including Sativex. These medications can only be prescribed by a specialist doctor, and only to those with qualifying conditions which have resisted other treatments. At the time of writing, qualifying conditions include things like MS and epilepsy.
These medications do include cannabidiol, but they also include other cannabinoids like THC. It must be noted that this makes them illegal to purchase without a prescription, as THC is still strictly prohibited.
A Diversion? Nobody is Receiving Prescribed Cannabis
As of yet, over half a year after doctors were given the green light, nobody has been prescribed any of these medications. “The situation is appalling,” Mike Barnes, honorary professor of neurological rehabilitation at Newcastle University, told the British Medical Journal. “The legislation has had no impact on the health of people who remain criminalised due to the lack of education of the medical community and overcautious guidelines produced by the Royal College of Physicians and the British Paediatric Neurology Association.”
Sadly, this means patients who could benefit from these medications are not receiving the medication which could help them. Doctors are, understandably, cautious about prescriptions, because the criminalisation of cannabis and very little research into these medications is causing anxiety about legal repercussions.
Nobody has any idea where this industry will go – it remains to be seen whether any patients will receive prescriptions or whether permission was given just to silence public uproar. However, CBD does hold some promise as to the future of the industry.
CBD’s Take-Off as a Food Supplement
The fame surrounding Billy Caldwell’s case thrust CBD into the spotlight. Suddenly, the public became very aware of cannabidiol and its potential uses, whereas before it was an incredibly niche piece of knowledge.
CBD food supplements had been present on the market before, but very few people were aware of them. All of a sudden, CBD became all the rage. The non-psychoactive, non-addictive food supplement had been declared safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017, and now the public wanted to try it for themselves.
Although the CBD oil supplements online are nothing like the cannabis oil used by patients like Billy Caldwell, health-conscious individuals were wanting to try out the potential of CBD to support the general wellbeing of healthy individuals. Word soon got out, and a huge wave of support rolled in for CBD.
While CBD products containing minimal THC are legal to buy without prescription, the market remains unregulated. But will this ever change? And will more discoveries about CBD improve the medical industry?
The Future: Could CBD Lead to More Changes?
It’s pretty much impossible to ignore the popularity of CBD. In fact, we think it will be impossible for authorities to ignore it much longer. This means more research into CBD, and thus more research into cannabis and its effects on the body – be them positive or negative.
As research unveils more discoveries, it is possible that legislation will continue to change. With increased understanding from both the government and the public, CBD may be used in future medications that will truly help people.
For now, educated consumers can continue to enjoy CBD supplements responsibly and legally, with the knowledge that their healthy lifestyle may be contributing to something bigger.