Experts and society are divided on the benefits and subsequent legalisation of medical marijuana.
In North America alone there is deep division with half the states and Canada legalising medical marijuana while the other half refuses. In the UK it is not legal to use medical marijuana, but ironically the UK is home to the most successful cannabis extract company in GW Pharmaceuticals, who have a product on the market that includes a mixture of cannabis extracts. The success of the company and for the patients it treats strongly suggests the issue might need to be revisited, and at least more research performed on exploiting the possibilities.
Our own work in the area, including the most recent study, shows that there is a powerful argument for the potential of cannabis extracts. We conducted a study which involved the testing of one of these extracts for the use of pain relief. The impetus of our study was whether one compound contained in the marijuana plant could achieve therapeutic effects, while at the same time minimising or avoiding the undesirable side effects. Our results demonstrate for the first time that the medically beneficial pain-relieving effects of THC can be separated from its cognitive side effects.
There are multiple compounds contained within the marijuana plant that are of medical interest. The two major ones are cannabidiol and THC. Cannabidiol is in clinical trials to treat epilepsy and symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, while THC has been linked for numerous treatments including pain relief and cancer.
Where cannabis is and isn't legal
Where cannabis is and isn't legal
Having been reclassified in 2009 from a Class C to a Class B drug, cannabis is now the most used illegal drug within the United Kingdom. The UK is also, however, the only country where Sativex – a prescribed drug that helps to combat muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis and contains some ingredients that are also found in cannabis - is licensed as a treatment
2/12 North Korea
Although many people believe the consumption of cannabis in North Korea to be legal, the official law regarding the drug has never been made entirely clear whilst under Kim Jong Un’s regime. However, it is said that the North Korean leader himself has openly said that he does not consider cannabis to be a drug and his regime doesn’t take any issue with the consumption or sale of the drug
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In the Netherlands smoking cannabis is legal, given that it is smoked within the designated ‘smoking areas’ and you don’t possess more than 5 grams for personal use. It is also legal to sell the substance, but only in specified coffee shops
Although in some states of America cannabis has now been legalised, prior to the legalisation, police in the U.S. could make a marijuana-related arrest every 42 seconds, according to US News and World Report. The country also used to spend around $3.6 billion a year enforcing marijuana law, the American Civil Liberties Union notes
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Despite cannabis being officially illegal in Spain, the European hotspot has recently started to be branded, ‘the new Amsterdam’. This is because across Spain there are over 700 ‘Cannabis Clubs’ – these are considered legal venues to consume cannabis in because the consumption of the drug is in private, and not in public. These figures have risen dramatically in the last three years – in 2010 there were just 40 Cannabis Clubs in the whole of Spain. Recent figures also show that in Catalonia alone there are 165,000 registered members of cannabis clubs – this amounts to over 5 million euros (£4 million) in revenue each month
In December 2013, the House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill legalizing and regulating the production and sale of the drug. But the president has since postponed the legalization of cannabis until to 2015 and when it is made legal, it will be the authorities who will grow the cannabis that can be sold legally. Buyers must be 18 or older, residents of Uruguay, and must register with the authorities
Despite the fact that laws prohibiting the sale and misuse of cannabis exist and is considered a habit only entertained by lower-income groups, it is very rarely enforced. The occasional use of cannabis in community gatherings is broadly tolerated as a centuries old custom. The open use of cannabis by Sufis and Hindus as a means to induce euphoria has never been challenged by the state. Further, large tracts of cannabis grow unchecked in the wild
In 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize the use of all drugs, and started treating drug users as sick people, instead of criminals. However, you can still be arrested or assigned mandatory rehab if you are caught several times in possession of drugs
9/12 Puerto Rico
Although the use of cannabis is currently illegal, it is said that Puerto Rico are in the process of decriminalising it
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The US state became the first in the country to legalise marijuana in January 2014. In February 2015, President Obama recently said he expects to see more states "looking into" legalisation. However, it is illegally to grow more than six cannabis plants and to possess more than 28 grams of the drug
Oaksterdam in Oakland, California, is the world's only university dedicated to the study and cultivation of cannabis. If you are court in California with anything up to an ounce of cannabis, you will be fine $100, but you will not get a criminal record, nor will you have to appear in court
Cannabis is grown in the wild and has been used to treat conditions such as gout and malaria. But, officially the substance is illegal to consume, possess and sell
Our work has revolved around THC, which is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. THC is known to induce numerous undesirable effects, including memory impairments, anxiety, and drug dependence. Importantly, THC also has numerous potentially therapeutic effects, including pain relief, muscle relaxation, and neuroprotection. THC acts in the body on a family of receptors, called cannabinoid receptors or docking stations, that go on to communicate that THC has ‘docked’ and will facilitate the above effects.
What we discovered was that not all of these cannabinoid docking stations were the same. We found that some were associated with another family of receptors, called serotonin receptors. When THC docks with cannabinoid-serotonin coupled receptors, the body responds with memory impairments. Using mice lacking this serotonin receptor, we revealed that the pain relief effects of THC were maintained while the memory problems caused by exposure to THC were lost in these mice.
In subsequent molecular studies, we showed that in specific brain regions involved in memory formation, the receptors for THC and serotonin work together by physically interacting with each other. We were then able to interfere with this interaction and prevent the memory deficits induced by THC, but not its pain relieving properties.
Going forward, our study suggests that it would be possible to create a drug that can interfere with this cannabinoid-serotonin interaction and thus allow THC to provide side effect-free pain relief.
Importantly, our work was done in rodents, so it will important to first show that these same things can occur in humans. If they do, then this study will open doors to harnessing the potential of THC without the side effects.
Dr. Peter J. McCormick is a Lecturer in Cell Biology at the University of East AngliaReuse content