The Home secretary Sajid Javid has asked the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to give a verdict on rescheduling marijuana after relaxing rules was recommended by England’s chief medical officer earlier this month. Sputnik spoke to Ian Hamilton, Lecturer and Researcher at the University of York, about what this all means.
Sputnik: Ian, what’s the significance of this 2nd stage review and where does leave efforts in the UK to prescribe medical cannabis?
Ian Hamilton: Well, it’s really welcomed. Essentially, what the AMCD — the government’s scientific advisors, have said; is that they support the chief medical officer’s recommendation that cannabis should be rescheduled. Cannabis is currently in a schedule one drug, and what that means is that it’s in the same group as Morphine and Diamorphine.
I think most people would, without even much knowledge of pharmacology, would recognize that the risks around Diamorphine are far greater than the risks around cannabis.
I think it’s welcomed to see this recommendation, I think the speed of which it’s happening, this is all taking place in matter of weeks when some of these things can take months or years, is to be commended. The Home Secretary has kept to his word and has made sure the deadlines have been met on these reviews.
Sputnik: Speaking hypothetically, if the UK government was to take this advice on board and allow cannabis to be prescribed to UK patients, what would this look and how would it be controlled and distributed to patients?
Ian Hamilton: I think that’s the critical point. I think there’s every chance the Home Office will accept the scientific advisors advice to reschedule cannabis; but I think we need to be really careful about the message that sends out to people, particularly people who are hoping they will be able to access cannabis more swiftly for their health problems.
I’m very cautious about that because one of the detailed lines in this report was saying that cannabis products a very poorly defined, so the scientific advisors suggested that The Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority, another government department, should go away and define what cannabis products are and what they mean.
As I say, the devil is in the detail on the surface, this looks as though things are progressing towards people being able to access medicinal cannabis preparations, but I think they are going to be disappointed. I can see this taking a lot longer than people are expecting before they able to even get a product prescribed.
Sputnik: Looking at countries in Europe and also nations oversea, like the US and Canada, attitudes to cannabis have changed dramatically in the last 5 to 10 years; with governments taking a more pragmatic approach to the benefits surrounding the drug. However in the UK, it’s a completely different story… why is the UK government still so reluctant in following suit?
Ian Hamilton: Governments are made up of people and people don’t like admitting they’re wrong — it takes some courage approaching policy in a completely different way.
I give credit to the Home Office and to the Government to at least looking again and reviewing the evidence around medicinal cannabis; however they have been absolutely clear that they are not going to regulate cannabis for recreational purposes. I think it’s quite difficult to separate the two. How do you differentiate between people using cannabis for recreational purposes and to improve their health? It may seem very simple but I suspect the reality of trying to do that is very difficult.
That again why the scientific advisors are being ultra-cautious and have said they have some concerns about when cannabis is rescheduled, it might be diverted into a wider market, it’s something that the scientific advisors are acutely aware of.
The views and opinions expressed by Ian Hamilton do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.