Why I’m Standing Up For THC

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m a little bit sick of CBD.

Don’t get me wrong. I make my living writing about the stuff, and it’s what I turn to if I’ve got any aches, pains or a touch of anxiety.

It’s just right now, CBD has become the acceptable face of cannabis. Grannies love it for their creaking joints, parents give it to their children for epilepsy, and even Saint Gwyneth Paltrow has sung CBD’s praises.

And yes, I totally get why CBD is such an attractive proposition for anyone dipping their toes into the medical cannabis waters; it doesn’t get you stoned, is legal, and can be bought on the high street. What’s not to like?

But CBD is far from the whole cannabis story.

In the midst of our national CBD oil fervour, we’ve conveniently forgotten THC, the most abundant and widely researched compound in cannabis.

If CBD and THC were two friends, CBD would be the solid, reliable type with no hidden surprises. THC on the other hand, would be the one the girls go for; all edgy and enigmatic with unpredictable charm (and a police record).

In fact, at the mere mention of THC, most non-cannabis smokers go running for the hills (including myself not so long ago). THC’s link to schizophrenia and psychosis certainly doesn’t help its case, but cannabis was never meant to have the high THC levels currently found in recreational strains.

That’s because the cannabis plant contains over 100 of special compounds called cannabinoids, as well as other active molecules called terpenes which create its distinct aroma.

All these components work together to create a special kind of synergy whereby the heady, dominating effect of THC is lessened, and the plant’s therapeutic benefits maximised.

It’s just in the last twenty years, THC levels in the UK have skyrocketed because of an explosion in domestic indoor grow operations supplying the illegal recreational market. They operate to a very simple modus operandi: supply the strongest, cheapest and fastest growing weed possible, and stuff any potential health dangers.

Cannabis cultivated for medical use very rarely contains the high THC levels found on the black market.

But that’s not because THC is inherently bad or without therapeutic value. Quite the contrary, scientists have studied THC for conditions as varied as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, inflammatory bowel disease and glaucoma, although mostly in preclinical trials and less frequently on humans.

It’s as if the true potential of THC has been hijacked by our insatiable need to get high, and the determination of governments to suppress it.

Instead, lawmakers stick steadfastly to an outdated Schedule 1 classification that deems any cannabis product containing THC liable for abuse and with no therapeutic benefit.

There are serious consequences however, to legislating against the medicinal properties of THC and cannabis.

Research has been sorely hampered due to the severe restrictions placed on investigating a Schedule 1 substance.

So it becomes a sort of ‘Catch 22’ situation: lawmakers say there isn’t sufficient evidence that medical cannabis works, but its Schedule 1 status means much meaningful research is prevented from happening in the first place.

Then there’s the thousands of medical cannabis users who have been forced to turn to the black market.

Imagine having MS or cancer and being left with no option but to buy cannabis from the local dealer.

Not only is there no control over the kind of cannabis you are buying — you get what you’re given regardless of whether it’s been grown using toxic chemicals — but there is a very real risk of being arrested for possession of a class B drug.

Some people choose to grow their own. Like a friend of mine in leafy, middle England. She’d turned to cannabis oil when conventional medicine failed to halt her cancer.

Never in her wildest dreams did she ever imagine secretly nurturing six cannabis plants in her garage.

But thanks to life throwing a major curve ball, she suddenly found herself pondering medical marijuana strains, ordering grow tents on the internet, and hoping the police wouldn’t detect the strange smell emanating from beyond the garage doors.

After much research, it was a 1:1 ratio THC:CBD strain of cannabis that was glistening in the darkened closet. That’s because adding CBD into the mix not only reduces the psychoactive effect of THC, but according to preclinical studies, may even increase anti-tumoral action.

In countries where medical cannabis is regulated, much tinier amounts of THC are often prescribed, including to children.

Such was the case of Alfie Dingley, the six-year-old boy with epilepsy whose parents are demanding a break in the UK government’s blanket ban on marijuana, which would allow Alfie to continue with his cannabis medication.

Prior to being prescribed medical cannabis, Alfie’s future looked bleak. He averaged 48 hospital visits a year and faced a life on steroids to stabilise his seizures. This approach had not only proved unsuccessful, but doctors thought would either kill him or lead to psychosis.

Ironically, it was a tiny amount of THC, so feared for its risk to young minds, that dramatically reduced Alfie’s seizures.

The family had tried a hemp based CBD oil, but it was only in the Netherlands when Alfie was prescribed CBD and THC together that he experienced such life changing effects.

And yet, despite Alfie’s seemingly miraculous improvement, even this almost imperceptible amount of THC is prohibited by UK law.

Of course, I am certainly not suggesting that THC should be dished out willy nilly. THC, CBD, and all the hundreds of other compounds in the cannabis plant need to be exhaustively researched before being prescribed to patients. It’s just until the plant’s Schedule 1 misclassification is changed, scientists and the patients that use it, are stuck between an impossible rock and a hard place.

There is however a small glimmer of hope.

June this year will see the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence review the both the dangers and therapeutic applications of cannabis and cannabis-related substances, including THC and CBD. It is more than possible that after all the reports from member states have been considered, both cannabis and THC could find themselves coming in from the scheduling cold.

In which case, countries like the UK will no longer be able to hide behind outdated UN Drugs Conventions when discussing the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use.

Unfortunately, this is far from a done deal. And right now, under current restrictions on cannabis research, we the public are being denied the possibility of future cancer treatments, therapies to halt neurodegenerative diseases, and alternatives to hardcore prescription pain medication.

This for me makes it a matter of public health. That’s why I’m determined to keep fighting — and writing.

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