It is integral to any successful medical cannabis policy that patients are able to source the correct medicine for their illness or symptoms.
Otherwise, who is the policy there to benefit?
There are a huge range of cannabinoids produced within the cannabis plant. These differ greatly between the types and species of the cannabis genus. Even within the same subspecies or “strain”, there is a variance genetically.
So finding the right medicine for the patient can take some doing. The varying degrees and the vast range of ailments that cannabis can be effectively used to treat means there can be no “one size fits all approach” when identifying the correct cannabinoid profile for the patients’ needs.
This is to such an extent that in some other countries around the world where large scale, commercial pharmaceutical production of cannabis is legal and regulated, there have been allowances to “Grow your own”. This is because patients and policymakers recognise the core need is that of the patients, and to access the correct medicine for them.
The ability of the patient to produce their own effective medicine at home, at very little personal cost, is where cannabis therapies differ from traditional pharmaceuticals. There is very little, if any, possibility of detrimental side-effects and no possibility of overdose. So in terms of safety cannabis-based medicine is unrivalled. Allowing patient cultivation would empower patients with the ability and choice, whilst saving the NHS millions of pounds in the process.
In the US and Canada it is now generally accepted that cannabis has a range of effective medical benefits. However, even in America, where science does not refute the efficacy of cannabis, there is still a disparity between state laws for medical cannabis production. In some states there is an allowance for patients to produce their own cannabis and use this to medicate in a form that suits them. However, there are other states neighbouring these that forbid personal cultivation of cannabis outside of a handful of licensed operations. This handful of producers would never logistically be able to provide the choice required by the many thousands of patients.
Within some locations in the USA there are also restrictions on the form of cannabis that it comes in. These can range from restrictions on extracts such as hash, wax, oil or shatter – often the highest concentration and most effective delivery methods. This has been detrimental to the overall efficacy of the policy for several reasons.
There are a wide variety of delivery methods required to ensure the most effective treatment is achieved for the patient.
For example, a cancer patient wishing to treat bowel cancer may be using an oil-based suppository. This ensures the delivery into the area immediately. However, if somebody wished to use cannabis as an anti-emetic, whilst undergoing chemotherapy, they may find using a bong, vaporising flowers, or another form of concentrate better suited to them due to it’s faster-hitting effects.
It should not be the will or place of policymakers to force upon someone a method of managing their own illness – this has happened for too long. In this area, an ideal cannabis policy would take into account the needs of individual patients, as well as the wider mass market that exists.
Not enabling the patient to choose their consumption method would be a huge flaw in policy, and patients should have the right to make an informed choice on the best medication for them.
There are currently only a select few companies providing medical cannabis to patients in the EU and UK. These include Bedrocan, based in the Netherlands and GW Pharma based in the UK.
These producers grow strains that are very similar (actually identical to certain strains e.g. GW’s Skunk No.1 in Sativex), to those that could be grown at home by a patient.
Although there are clear benefits to having mass produced stocks of medical cannabis to serve the wider market, logistically a handful of companies could never meet the needs specific to each individual.
There have been arguments for a long time that this model further stifles research and only continues to perpetuate a monopoly held by a minority of corporate entities – rather than help the patients who need the medicine.
The benefits of a self-grown/personal production system are many and far-reaching.
It allows the patients to have the flexibility to select specific genetics that treat their symptoms in the most favourable way for them, as well as the ability to choose the consumption method based on their own needs and endocannabinoid system.
There have already been many instances where a single legal producer supplies a small selection of strains that have not sufficiently met the needs of the patients. Thus they are forced to continue accessing black market sources to acquire adequate Medicine to help them. The Netherlands is a prime example of this.
An example of a patient-focused system is allowing patients to grow a number of plants for themselves. Often broken down to; XX number of cuttings/babies, XX number of vegetative growth and XX flowering. There would be a large section of the medical market that would still benefit from commercial scale production of generic cannabis-based medical products alongside this. However, allowances need to be made for every patients’ requirement and cannot be restrictive.
In areas where provisions for “Grow your own” have been made there has been an additional benefit, reducing this black market production to meet patients needs. The model that has been successful in many cases, has been a “Caregivers network”. A “Caregivers Network” operates where the responsibility and allowance for growing is passed to a central Growing Operation, that then manages the production of the medicine on behalf of the individual patient. Each individual plant is tracked throughout the entire process to delivery.
A “Caregivers Network” is a great solution for patients who have specific needs but are unable to physically tend their own garden, either through ill health or personal circumstance.
It is a responsible and accountable way of producing low-cost medicine that suits the needs of patients. This taken into account, there would be a very high number of people who would be very happy with the medicine provided by a large scale production process.
I’m hoping for a more sensible solution when it comes to cannabis. Almost any solution is preferred to the current status quo which that sees sick patients criminalised by an outdated and draconian policy.
Want more? Read our Cannabis in Europe series by Simpa Carter