What comes to mind when you think of weed? That’s the image I want you to hold onto as you read this article.
I can’t speak for each person individually, but for a lot of people it’s the image of a ‘stoner’: Saul from Pineapple Express or Hyde from That 70s Show. But what is a ‘stoner’? Someone who smokes regularly? If so there are countless other respected and intellectual characters who would be considered stoners – Steve Jobs, Carl Sagan and Jack Kerouac, to name a few.
Furthermore, what is considered ‘regular’ use of weed? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? Does this image of a stoner only exist in this country due to its being illegal? This article can’t tell you yes or no to the question of legalisation, as – much like a political standing – it cannot be given – however I hope it will shed some light on an intricate and complex subject. As for my own standpoint, I came into this with little knowledge and the conclusion that it should remain illegal; however upon extensive research, I’m now a strong advocate for not only it’s legalisation in the UK, but worldwide.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot die from cannabis. You can die from being ‘on it’ but not from the plant itself. Even in the (very rare) case that you are allergic to it, the reaction is incredibly mild comparably, simply resulting in an upset stomach. However, to leave the negatives here would be to gloss over some significant health impacts which cannabis can cause.
Short term, it is possible to feel faint, dizzy or confused. This is generally worse for people on as anti-depressants, alcohol or cigarettes. In extreme cases, this may lead to panic attacks or cause people to unknowingly put themselves in danger (crossing roads, falling, burning themselves). A few studies suggest that prolonged use of cannabis (particularly starting as a teenager) can lead to a heightened risk of developing schizophrenia by the age of 45.
Although there is very little evidence of this it is something to be considered. If smoked, then it can also cause damage to lungs, however, on its own is not known to lead to any cases of cancer or pulmonary issues. It is said that 10% of users can become addicted to and dependent upon cannabis, however this is actually less than the percentage of coffee drinkers who become addicted to caffeine, making it an underwhelming figure.
Much like legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, there are significant risks associated with the use of cannabis, however these are often confused and exaggerated by the media.
Cannabis has recently been legalised in the UK to treat 2 rare forms of epilepsy, however the NHS doesn’t recommend its use. If the medical repercussions of cannabis are so low, as demonstrated prior, then why is there a reluctance by doctors to use it to treat severe illnesses such as epilepsy?
‘Sativex’ is a cannabis-based pill containing THC and CBD, available for medical use in the UK in rare cases of chronic pain and now epilepsy. However, to get a prescription of ‘medical cannabis’, you either have to have considerable money for private healthcare, or be incredibly lucky. The NHS claims that the reluctance to prescribe medical cannabis is due to the lack of scientific study about the long-term effects.
Although the government itself may not have carried out this research, it has been carried out by a number of organisations. Research suggests that medical cannabis can be used to manage pain, strengthen your heart and eyes, reduce seizures and cancer risks and even help with weight management for those with eating disorders, as well as providing relief to those with extreme anxiety or insomnia. Therefore, one might suggest that the cost of the treatment prevents its legalisation in the UK rather than the impact to one’s health.
Cannabis, much like many other drugs has its positives and negatives. There is the chance for significant long-term impacts, which have to be considered when using it for short term relief. Once one drug is legalised it opens a gateway to others. Furthermore, it is unlikely that everyone in the UK understands the impacts of cannabis; perhaps education surrounding its safe use is necessary before the legalisation.
Either way, it certainly is becoming more readily available for health conditions and via CBD oil; perhaps we are one step closer to legalisation in the UK.
Image Credit: The Independent