Health: My drugs shame

SINCE I am not, nor am ever likely to be, prime minister, I can admit it - I did inhale. I also cooked, drank and ate... Afghani, Moroccan and Lebanese - and yeah, man, it was groovy. This was all a long time ago. But this week's news that the Medical Research Council (MRC) is to spend almost pounds 1m supplying cannabis to several hundred people around the country nevertheless warmed the cockles of an old hippie's heart.

Cannabis, which has probably been around since the last millennium, looks set for a renaissance in the new one. Not one but two trials are planned to test its medicinal benefits. In addition to the MRC study of patients with multiple sclerosis, GW Pharmaceuticals - the only company with a Home Office licence to grow the drug - is planning a trial on 2,000 patients with MS, spinal cord injury and intractable pain.

This is excellent news, though it has been slow in coming. It is two years since the British Medical Association suggested controls on prescribing cannabis derivatives be relaxed to allow research to go ahead, after indications that it could be effective against conditions ranging from nausea to epilepsy. There is little doubt it has been held up by the public fear of recreational drugs. That fear, as applied to cannabis, is misplaced.

When my teenage sons began experimenting with cannabis, I was more relieved than alarmed. I reckoned it ought to mean less drinking and, on the principle of harm reduction, should bring a net benefit. I laid down conditions - they had to be discreet (no clouds of blue smoke billowing down the stairwell), and there was a ban on smoking during the day - but I was otherwise tolerant. Keeping the lines of communication open has always seemed more important - and feasible - than controlling which substances passed their lips.

Some support for this view came from The Lancet. In an editorial published a year ago, the medical journal concluded that cannabis was less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and that "the desire to take mood-altering substances is an enduring feature of human societies worldwide and even the most draconian legislation has failed to extinguish this desire".

It suggested that patients thinking of trying cannabis for relief were entitled to know the risks - accidents when intoxicated, irritation of the lungs, dependence with daily use and subtle cognitive impairment with long-term use. Compared to the damage wreaked by smoking and drinking, however, these dangers were not excessive, it said.

Strangely no one has yet suggested a trial of one of cannabis's best known, but least discussed, effects - its enhancement of sex. In all the words written about Viagra, I don't recall a mention of its natural alternative. When the Impotence Association funds a trial, cannabis's renaissance will be complete.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas