EMBARGO 0001 HOURS
WEDNESDAY 11th NOVEMBER 1998
LORDS SAY, LEGALISE CANNABIS
FOR MEDICAL USE
The Government should allow doctors
to prescribe cannabis for medical use: this is the conclusion
of a report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee,
Lord Perry of Walton, chairman of the
inquiry said: "We have seen enough evidence to convince us
that a doctor might legitimately want to prescribe cannabis to
relieve pain, or the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), and
that the criminal law ought not to stand in the way. Far from
being a step towards general legalisation, our recommendation
would make the ban on recreational use easier to enforce. Above
all, it would show compassion to patients who currently risk prosecution
to get help."
Cannabis is a "Schedule 1"
drug, and cannot be used at all in medicine, except for research
under special Home Office licence. The Lords recommend that
it should be moved to "Schedule 2". This would allow
doctors to prescribe it, subject to certain special regulations,
and it would allow doctors and pharmacists to supply it in accordance
with a prescription.
The report sets out evidence that cannabis
can be effective in some patients to relieve the symptoms of MS,
and against certain forms of pain. The Lords say, this evidence
is enough to justify a change in the law. They are less convinced
about its effectiveness in other conditions, including epilepsy,
glaucoma and asthma.
The Lords welcome the fact that clinical
trials of cannabis are currently being launched, by the Royal
Pharmaceutical Society, and by Dr Geoffrey Guy of GW Pharmaceuticals,
with a view to the eventual licensing of cannabis as a medicine.
The Lords say, however, that cannabis should be rescheduled now,
rather than waiting several years for the results of these trials.
If cannabis ever becomes a licensed
medicine, the Lords do not envisage it being licensed for smoking;
they call for research into alternative delivery systems.
At present, people who use cannabis
for medical reasons risk prosecution; and juries sometimes refuse
to convict such people, which brings the law into disrepute. If
prescription were legalised, then someone using cannabis for medical
reasons who was accused of recreational use could clear himself
at once by producing the prescription. [More]
The Lords find enough evidence of toxic
effects of cannabis to justify maintaining the present ban on
recreational use. Besides being intoxicating, they report that:
- regular heavy use can lead to
psychological dependence, and even in some cases to physical dependence,
involving withdrawal symptoms;
- cannabis can pose a risk to people
with a heart condition;
- cannabis can exacerbate pre-existing
- smoking cannabis is as bad for
the lungs as smoking tobacco, and may cause cancer.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The report follows an inquiry
which began in April, and included 12 public hearings. A
list of the Lords who took part in the study is attached :
2. The report is published by The
Stationery Office: Cannabis, HL Paper 151, ISBN 0
10 4151986, £9.50.
3. The evidence taken by the Committee
is published separately as HL Paper 151-I, ISBN 0 10 4792981,
4. The full text will be on the
Internet on publication, accessible via the UK Parliament home
page at www.parliament.uk
4. The Government are required
to respond in writing to the report; and the report will be debated
in the House of Lords.
Further information from Elaine Morgan/Tessa
House of Lords Committee Office
'Phone 0171-219 6075; Fax 0171-219
Lord Perry of Walton FRS (Lib Dem):
former Professor of Pharmacology; founding Vice-Chancellor of
the Open University 1969-81.
Lord Butterfield (Cons): Vice-Chancellor
of Nottingham University 1970-75; Regius Professor of Physic (ie
medicine), Cambridge, 1975-87; Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University
Lord Butterworth (Cons): Vice-Chancellor
of the University of Warwick 1963-85.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove (Lab):
MP 1962-83; former junior Minister in various departments.
Lord Dixon-Smith (Cons): former Chairman,
Association of County Councils.
Lord Kirkwood (Lib Dem): metallurgist;
former lecturer, Sheffield University.
Lord Nathan (cross-bench): solicitor;
former member of Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.
Lord Porter of Luddenham (cross-bench):
Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1967; President of the Royal Society
Lord Rea (Lab): former GP.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior (Cons):
Emeritus Professor of Animal Pathology, Cambridge; President of
the Royal Society of Medicine.
Lord Walton of Detchant (cross-bench):
former professor of Neurology and Dean of Medicine, Newcastle
University; former President of the General Medical Council, the
British Medical Association, and the World Federation of Neurology.
Lord Winston (Lab): Dean of the Institute
of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.