In the news this week … cannabis legalised

Cannabis has now been legalised within the UK under prescription by specialist doctors. It can only be prescribed where other medicines have failed. This decision has been made following recent incidences of children with severe epilepsy being denied access to cannabis oil that was bought in another country when re-entering the UK.

Within the UK cannabis has been legalised for treatment of children with rare and severe forms of epilepsy, adults with nausea or vomiting caused by chemotherapy and adults with muscle stiffness caused by multiple sclerosis.

As a bit of background, epilepsy is a condition that results from abnormal electrical activity within the brain, which results in whats known as seizure. These can take on many different forms as there are many different types of epilepsy, such as absence seizures and tonic-clonic seizures. Some forms of epilepsy the abnormal electrical activity only affects one area of the brain, sometimes it affects one area but goes on to affect the whole brain and others it affects the whole brain from the start.

Research into the use of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis for children with treatment resistant epilepsy reported a reduction in the frequency of seizures, some children experiencing up to 100 seizures a day prior to treatment with cannabis oil. Some of the parents of these children actually reported that their children were complete free of seizures once being treated with cannabidiol-enriched cannabis. Other benefits that were reported by parents include increased alertness, better mood and improved sleep.

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that targets rapidly reproducing cells, eg cancerous cells, and results in apoptosis (cell death) of these cells or halting the division of these cells. Hair loss and sickness are common side effects of chemotherapy as hair follicle associated cells are also rapidly dividing, as is the lining of the gastrointestinal system therefore these cells are also affected by the chemotherapeutic agent.

Research into use of cannabis products as treatment for chemotherapy patients with nausea and vomiting showed that the use of use of cannabinoid dronabinol had an anti-emetic efficacy that was greater compared to neuroleptics. There was also a difference in favour of the cannabinoid dronabinol over a placebo however this difference was not statistically significant. This shows that more research is needed to ensure cannabinoids are more effective for patients compared to modern day anti-emetics.

Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects the insulting layer, called the myelin sheath, that encases the projecting fibres of neurons. This protective sheath acts like the plastic insulation around electrical wires, keeps the signal going in the right direction towards the target. In multiple sclerosis the immune system attacks this protection sheath and causes the signals to stray from their target, this can cause loss of function, such as loss of vision, or abnormal undesired symptoms, such as muscle spasms.

In terms of the use of cannabis- based medicine in those with multiple sclerosis, studies have been conducted with patient who have multiple sclerosis that is not controlled satisfactorily by using standard drugs. A study has found that the use of cannabis-based medicine in those that initially showed an improvement of symptoms, most commonly spasticity, showed an improvement with long term effects. However, this particular study also showed side effects that in some patients were shown to have adverse effects, such as seizures.

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