WITHIN the last few days, the UK chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, announced that there is now conclusive evidence for the benefit of medicinal cannabis products for some illnesses.

Her report was commissioned by the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, after two high profile cases involving young boys with epilepsy, who were unresponsive to current NHS treatment.

The families travelled to America and Holland respectively, where the boys were prescribed cannabis oil. Both families have reported a massive improvement in their child’s condition, with virtually no seizures since commencing the new treatment.

The cannabis-based product Sativex is currently licensed in the UK, but otherwise, medicinal cannabis is a schedule one drug.

This classification is applied to a product that is deemed to have “little or no therapeutic benefit” – hence it cannot be prescribed in normal circumstances.

The cases of these two young boys are not isolated. It is estimated that there are 20,000 children in the UK whose epilepsy does not respond to currently prescribed drugs.

Cannabis-based medicines have also demonstrated benefit in other conditions, namely Multiple Sclerosis, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy drugs prescribed to cancer patients, and in cases of chronic pain.

While it is possible and even likely that medicinal cannabis will be rescheduled, this does not automatically mean that cannabis will be reclassified. Dame Sally Davies points out “this report does not look at recreational cannabis and does not endorse or condone recreational use”.

Currently both possession and supply of cannabis are illegal in the UK with the maximum punishment being a prison sentence.

THERE has been a long argument for the decriminalisation of cannabis, partly based its scale of use.

It remains the most commonly used recreational drug, with an estimated one in six 16-24 year olds having tried it at some point.

Cannabis quickly produces feelings of calm and euphoria.

Side effects include dry mouth, irritability and a loss of coordination. Most of these wear off once use is discontinued. It does not produce addiction in the manner of heroin, but is associated with dependence.

However, use before the age of 15, when the brain is still developing, as well as a regular habit, have been linked with schizophrenia as well as anxiety and depression.

As it is smoked in a manner similar to tobacco, lung damage is a recognised complication, though not as severe as that associated with cigarette use.

Cannabis is frequently mixed with tobacco, in which case the risks to lung health are the same as those with conventional cigarettes.

In conclusion, there is now clear evidence for the use of medicinal cannabis based products, which if rescheduled, could be prescribed by a medically qualified person, for use in specific and appropriate settings.

In turn this will allow more research and an improved knowledge of how to use this medicine for the benefit of patient care.

However, this in no way implies any gains from the use of recreational cannabis nor strengthens the argument for its legalisation.