“Medical marijuana is far more effective at treating symptoms of fibromyalgia than any of the three prescription drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the disorder.”
In 2014, that was one of the surprise findings of a survey of over 1,300 Fibromyalgia sufferers carried out in the US by the National Pain Foundation and the National Pain Report.
In a number of earlier articles, we have considered where people suffering chronic pain stand currently with regard to the medicinal use of cannabis. For many years, its medicinal use has been stigmatised by illegality and the possibility of unwanted side-effects if it is ingested through inhalation. So, are we any further forward in seeing cannabis, or rather certain of its constituent cannabinoids, rehabilitated into the mainstream pharmaceutical arsenal?
Cannabis Science, Inc, a research and development company based in Irvine, California, has announced recently that it is working on two transdermal patches containing cannabinoids, one for fibromyalgia sufferers and the other for those suffering diabetic neuropathy. In the same way as other medicated patches, the active ingredients are delivered into the bloodstream through the skin.
However, Cannabis Science are not the first to offer such a product. Colorado-based Mary’s Medicinals already market a cannabidiol transdermal patch, as well as a variety of other products.
Cannabidiol (CBD), whose anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant properties are well documented, is just one of the 113 cannabinoids so far identified in Cannabis. Its potential for medicinal use is enhanced by its lack of side effects, including its non-psychoactive properties.
In a number of countries, the market for legal, medicinal cannabis products is growing quickly. In the US in 2015, the market was estimated to be worth $5.4 billion and is forecast to grow to $22 billion by 2020.
Lack of knowledge
However, even in countries where the medicinal use of cannabis is becoming more accepted, perhaps the biggest obstacle yet to be overcome is the lack of knowledge of cannabis-related products and their potential benefits among the medical profession. Even if doctors are interested in finding out more about its medicinal use, there is a lack of reliable information available to them.
The law in both the UK and US does not recognise cannabis as having any medicinal value. In the UK, the only cannabis-based product that doctors can prescribe legally is Sativex, which contains both CBD and another cannabinoid, Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis.
Sativex is most regularly prescribed to treat spasticity in patients with Multiple Sclerosis. However, it can only be prescribed privately at a doctor’s own risk.
Can I legally possess a product containing CBD in the UK?
On the basis that it is not currently scheduled by the Home Office, and is therefore not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is commonly assumed that possessing CBD is legal. However, the position is not necessarily that clear cut.
In relation to a specific query regarding the legal status of chewing gum containing CBD, the Home Office confirmed that CBD is not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. As such, the response explained, any product containing CBD alone is not illegal. So far, so good.
However, there was a caveat. Should the product contain any substance, such as another cannabinoid, that is controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act that would be a different matter. For example, if the product was found to contain even the tiniest trace of THC, to possess it you would require a licence and in doing so without a license, you would be committing a criminal offence.
Clearly, in some countries the tide does seem to be turning towards acceptance of the potential benefits of the medicinal use of cannabis-related products, albeit very slowly. More official information and education (particularly of the medical profession) is required.
In the meantime, considerable caution should be exercised if purchasing such products from sources other than via a doctor’s prescription. The legal status of possessing such products varies considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and whilst there is considerable pressure on manufacturers to ensure that their customer base is not inadvertently breaking the law, ultimately the buck stops with you!