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Cannabis ‘medicine’ should be tested like prescription drugs

by JAWAD IQBAL for The Times, posted 30 10 2019

If you think you know all you need to know about the medical benefits of cannabis, now is a good time to think again. New research on the use of cannabis medicines to treat people with depression, anxiety and other mental health problems has found “scarce evidence” that they work or are safe, going on to conclude that such treatments could even make the problems worse.

The findings, published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, come from analysing case studies involving more than 3,000 people who had used “medicinal cannabinoids”, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis. At a time when more and more people with mental health problems are being led to pin their hopes on medical marijuana, this scientific evidence is a vital antidote.

The internet is awash with unverified claims about the benefits of cannabis-based treatments, particularly when it comes to mental health. The only problem is that there’s no actual evidence for this hype. Any discussion of the potential harm or benefit of medicinal cannabinoids cannot be left to the unchallenged claims made by modern-day quacks. It is easy enough to find people with depressive symptoms who feel that cannabis has helped them but this is a meaningless claim without proper assessment of the effect of the chemical constituents of the drug in the treatment of depressive disorders.

Other factors also come into play such as the amount taken, its potency and frequency of use, as well as individual tolerance levels. The potential for addiction and the dangers of self-medication are often overlooked by advocates.

Cannabis has been getting too easy a ride lately, touted as a quick and easy fix for complex emotional and physical problems. This scientific study should help restore some much needed sense and balance. The researchers identified what was described as a glaring gap in our knowledge, and clearly much more research is needed.

The normal practice is to prove the safety and efficacy of drugs through randomised controlled trials. Any future official guidance on medical cannabis use should be subject to the same regulatory processes of approval as other prescription medicines. When it comes to our health, we need to pay heed to the scientific evidence and not be blinded by emotions or anecdotal claims.

Jawad Iqbal is a freelance writer

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