Doctor with a microscope in a medical cannabis laboratory

Doctor with a microscope in a medical cannabis laboratory

By Richard Shrubb

We all know that doctors hide behind science to bullshit you on medicinal cannabis. Here’s something to fire back at them.

One of the reasons that medical cannabis isn’t being used as widely in the UK as it might is that there is poor quality medical research circulating among doctors that it doesn’t do the job. In this piece I’m going to challenge the arguments your pain/cancer/trauma/ other specialist doctor gives you in one sentence:

There isn’t enough high-quality research proving either way, though what evidence there is is positive in many cases.

There you go. Let’s evidence that fact from a European Union medical research paper.

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)

In 2018 the EMCDDA published a review of the best medical evidence available on how good medical cannabis is across all claimed therapeutic benefits. It looked at three recent ‘systematic reviews’ of medical research into the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine.

Systematic reviews look at a large number of medical research papers and evaluate their findings. They will assess what the standard of research is, how it was conducted and what the findings were. It will look for things like bias on the part of the researchers conducting it, and whether it was ‘blinded’ to avoid bias. Ideally, all research should be the ‘Double-blind, randomised controlled trial’ that is widely held as the gold standard of research. I could explain why but you would be bored. Suffice to say a systematic review would hold this more highly than a bunch of stoners asking fellow stoners if they thought weed made them feel good after passing them a joint.

It is worth noting that all the studies assessed in all three systematic reviews were positive about cannabis.

The first paper was a 2014 systematic review called “Reviews of the evidence on the efficacy and safety of cannabis and cannabinoids for multiple disorders — three key evidence reviews”.On page 7 of the EMCDDA paper it states, the authors “argued that we needed larger, better-designed RCTs to properly assess the efficacy of cannabinoids.”

The next was a systematic review published by 2015, recently shown to me by a psychiatrist who wrongly told me the evidence was weak that cannabis has any therapeutic value. The paper is called, “Cannabinoids for medical use: a systematic review and meta-analysis”. The EMCDDA paper said the paper found, “a need for large, robust well-controlled RCTs to confirm that cannabinoids were effective in treating most of these clinical outcomes.”

Are people taking the hint yet? A final paper, this time published with the help of the US government. Published in 2017 it is called, “The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research” and was published at the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). According to the EMCDDA, “for all other conditions evaluated there is inadequate information to assess their effects.”

So basically the best brains in the world are saying there isn’t the research to convince them either way that cannabis is a brilliant medicine or otherwise. If there was, I wouldn’t have a job explaining that weed is good to you and your doctor!

Regulatory battles

Photo of medical cannabis oil in a syringe and some weed.

Medical cannabis oil and bud.

Getting cannabis research done is a royal pain in the arse thanks to governments and regulatory bodies fighting scientists every inch of the way to prevent them from doing so.

Referring to the 2014 paper discussed above the EMCDDA also stated, “They also acknowledged the major disincentives to doing clinical research on cannabinoids, namely regulatory requirements, a prohibition on patients driving and the need to rely on subjective assessment of patient outcomes.”

I have been following the US Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) fight to clinically trial cannabis as a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since around 2011. They have pushed MDMA assisted psychotherapy forward until it is in large scale clinical trials even today – this lot aren’t hippy jokers. MAPS have been frustrated at every turn by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but being stubborn as mules fought on. The organisation states on its website, “Our efforts to initiate medical marijuana research have been hindered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) since our founding in 1986. NIDA’s previous monopoly on the supply of marijuana for research and the DEA’s prior refusal to allow researchers to grow their own has restricted medical marijuana research for decades. Since 1999, MAPS was involved in legal struggles against the DEA to end this situation.”

This is one story of dozens if not hundreds as scientists around the world have fought like dogs just to get cannabis tested as a medicine. The result has been the poor quality research that the science above shows time and again, thanks to the scientists being tied up like rubber suit wearing gimps by the limitations imposed on them.

A bright future?

MAPS got a US $2 million grant and permission from Colorado to do their research in the end. The US government backed down and the PTSD research is underway. Scientists won’t have to fight so hard – possibly even in the US – in future. Let’s look at why.

Canada legalising weed is the best possible thing to happen to medical research on cannabis. Yes, multibillion-dollar companies are up to their necks in the research (hippies like me won’t be happy) but it does mean that doctors can do high grade, double-blind randomised controlled trials on cannabis use in a variety of settings. On the 2nd April Health Europa published an article saying, “Canada has been pushing for collaboration between policymakers and medical professionals and the government has now invested millions of dollars of funding into several scientific research and community education projects.”

The corrupt UK government has been to now leading the way, as well as a war criminal country in the Middle East engaged in a genocide that I won’t mention. The doors are opening to cannabis research around the world. This isn’t to say that medical weed will be legal in the UK tomorrow but the evidence base that doctors claim hinders them will soon change. Hopefully, for the better?


Richard Shrubb

Richard is a marijuana, water sports and electric vehicles writer based in Dorchester, Dorset. Living in Prince Charles model housing estate, Poundbury, he is an avowed republican, community and Labour Party activist. Visit his website at www.richardshrubb.com for more about what he does.

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