CORONATION Street has seen a positive public response to the ‘taboo’ subject of medicinal cannabis.
The character Izzy Armstrong, played by Cherylee Houston, is seen to turn to cannabis to help her cope with pain as a result of her disability.
The Coronation Street storyline was mentioned in a court case and as a result, the judge gave a more lenient verdict which further sparks the debate surrounding the legality of the drug in the UK.
The soap’s senior publicity manager, Alison Sinclair, explained the effect this storyline has had stating: “The actress herself has the same condition as her character, obviously she is aware of people who have been in those circumstances.
“We felt with the actress herself having the same condition we decided to let the story unfold and it has worked really well as a strategy.
“The storyline is going to develop in a different way so keep watching. It is not going to go well for Izzy and you have got to be aware when making storylines like that, you have got to show both sides because although it may be helping her, there is also a negative side to it.”
She didn’t underestimate the importance of highlighting the issues within this debate: “You would be criticised if you are saying ‘look that is great, she is smoking cannabis and she is fine’, and suddenly you are saying ‘that’s the only thing that happens’.”
[pullquote] Cannabis laws in UK:
- Cannabis is a class B substance in the UK and is not legal for medical purposes.
- If caught using the drug, even for pain relief, this could lead up to a 5 year prison sentence.
- The production and trafficking of cannabis has a penalty of up to 14 year prison sentence.
Cannabis is claimed to have medical properties due to the compounds found in the drug called Cannabinoids, which work with the cannabinoid receptors in the body. The compound CBD is legal in the UK as it is not seen to have the same psychoactive effects as THC.
Cannabis has been linked to helping treat cancer patients suffering from nausea and vomiting because of chemotherapy, while it is also claimed to help reduce epileptic fits and anxiety attacks in those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, medical research is slow due to the legal status of the drug in the UK, therefore, anyone suffering with these illnesses often turns to illegal sources in order to source cannabis, similarly to Coronation Street’s Izzy Armstrong.
Video Source: Center for medicinal cannabis research
Professor Michael Barnes, Neurologist and Rehabilitation Physician explains the science of cannabinoids: “These days it is known that humans have cannabis receptors in their brains and have a natural cannabis system called endocannabinoid.
“It is a natural product in us, and in you and me and everyone else.”
The cannabinoids in humans have positive effects on movement, pain and protecting the brain from insults such as trauma and stroke and anti-cancer properties, so there is a lot of neuroscience research in the endocannabinoid system.”
“All cannabis is doing is substituting for deficiencies in that system, so there is a lot of research going on but the trouble is because it is not legal there is not a quantity level of research.
“Another advantage of making it legal is that you can do the studies that will confirm how useful or not it is and what the side effects are in the long term.”
In other parts of the world cannabis is recognised for its medicinal properties.
In America, 24 states have already legalised the medical use of cannabis, similarly in the Netherlands, Spain, Canada and Italy.
Countries such as Australia and Mexico are beginning to trial the drug and research its medical properties.
Germany also announced changes this week to future laws on cannabis. However, there is no suggestion of medical legalisation in the UK in the near future with the government’s opposing stance on the legalisation of cannabis.
[pullquote]The cannabis based product, Sativex, was approved by the UK government in 2010. It can be prescribed on the NHS and is used to help spasticity due to Multiple Sclerosis. The product contains both CBD and THC.[/pullquote]
The End Our Pain campaign hopes to create discussion in parliament and see change in the legalisation process of medicinal cannabis in the UK, with 12,981 signatures on their petition so far, which is still open to the members of the public to sign.
Due to the legal status patients run the risk of searching online for cannabis-based products for their illnesses. Yet this can be dangerous as it is unknown if the cannabis is pure and how it has been made.
Professor Michael Barnes adds, “It is putting the vulnerable people in vulnerable situations, they are making them criminals.”
However, some MPs are supporting the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, including Liberal democrat former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg who supports the ‘End Our Pain’ campaign.
Most recently, Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm suggested that more money could be raised for the NHS and junior doctors would not be on strike if cannabis is legalised and controlled.
“If we want to have a quality seven day medical service we will need to find the money to pay for this,” he admitted.
“Most doctors are currently not motivated with the government proposals to make changes in their contracts which has led to the recent strikes.
“By legalizing certain types of cannabis, with roughly equal amounts of cannabidiol and THC, you would be able to control the process from production, distribution and retail. The end product would be safer and it would raise money in taxes which could be earmarked to helping the NHS and our aging population.
“Also it would allow cannabis to be used for those with painful terminal illnesses such as cancers. Society needs to look at the evidence. Legalizing cannabis is the correct approach we should follow in the UK.”
By Laura Bailey