There is a growing body of evidence that cannabis can help alleviate the
pain of cancer, reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, and even reduce
certain cancerous tumors. Despite this and other evidence that medical
marijuana is beneficial for a number of other diseases, the United
Kingdom continues to ban medical marijuana and criminalize the
possession, use, and growth of cannabis.
Cancer in the United Kingdom
As it is in many nations of the world, cancer is the leading cause of death in the United Kingdom, accounting
for 29 percent of all deaths in 2012. According to Cancer Research
more than 330,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year, and about
162,000 people die from it. The 10-year survival rate is 50 percent, and
cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and bowels account for more than
half of yearly cancer diagnoses.
Treatment traditionally consists of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation
therapy, or a combination of all three. Other types of treatment include
immunotherapy and hormone therapy. But traditional treatments don’t
always work, and the side effects can be debilitating. Some of these
side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of hair
In addition, a cancer diagnosis and the accompanying treatment have been
associated with mental health disorders, such as depression and
Cannabis and Cancer
Cannabis has been used to treat many illnesses and conditions for
thousands of years, despite the lack of scientific evidence for its use.
has a rich history of medicinal cannabis use. In 1621, Robert Burton
published The Anatomy of Melancholy, in which he supported the use of
cannabis for treating depression. Thirty years later, Nicholas Culpeper
recommended hemp extract for treating headache, gout, and arthritis. In
the 1800s, Dr. William O’Shaughnessy promoted the use of cannabis for
muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, rheumatism, and seizures. Queen
Victoria herself is anecdotally reported to have used cannabis to
relieve menstrual cramps. Despite cannabis’s extensive history, the
scientific basis was lacking.
Research into the effects of cannabis on cancer began in earnest about
100 years later. In 1974, researchers at the Medical College of
Virginia found that
cannabis slowed the growth of cancerous tumors in mice.
In the past 20 years other research has found that cannabis can:
- Reduce nausea and
associated with chemotherapy
- Reduce pain and inflammation of
- Reduce cancer
and breast cancer
Even the National Institute on Drug
in the United States has revised its publication on marijuana by
recognizing the positive effects of cannabis for some cancer patients.
Where the UK Stands on Cannabis
In 1928, the use, growth, and possession of marijuana became illegal in
the UK under the Dangerous Drugs
This occurred despite lack of evidence that cannabis was, in fact,
dangerous. Cannabis is currently listed as a class B
meaning that its possession can result in a fine and/or five years in
prison, and its cultivation can results in a fine and/or 14 years in
In 2010, the oromucosal spray
was licensed in the UK for treating multiple sclerosis spasticity. This
medication is derived from two strains of cannabis and contains both
delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinoids
that have been associated with many of the medical effects currently
being studied. The use of Sativex is restricted only to multiple
sclerosis patients who are not responding to traditional treatments or
who cannot tolerate the side effects of traditional treatment, and the
cost of Sativex in the UK remains high and out of reach for many
patients. Despite this relaxing of the cannabis ban, the use of cannabis
for treating cancer still remains illegal.
From 2002 to 2005, a grassroots organization, Bud
ill patients with medical marijuana for free. This organization had
researched the benefits of medical marijuana from around the globe and
felt it was their mission to help those in need. Although they were
forced to close in 2007, they continue their work on developing a
high-quality cannabis oil, albeit in Spain, and to promote legislative
change in the UK through Project Storm. This
advanced cancer patients in the UK who have come to rely on cannabis for
treatment and symptom relief.
Cannabis Oil in the UK
It is currently illegal for anyone in the UK to possess cannabis
products, including cannabis oil. Cannabis
is concentrated oil extracted from the cannabis plant. Depending on the
ratio of THC to CBD, the oil can cause the high feeling of marijuana.
While some continue to advocate smoking cannabis for the faster onset of
effects, smoking is not always beneficial to those with cancer or those
undergoing chemotherapy. Cannabis oil provides a healthier method of
delivery. It can be taken via an oral syringe, in a pill capsule form,
or dropped under the tongue. For some, it can be added to food or drink.
According to Project Storm, cancer patients continue to seek cannabis
for their illness, even with the knowledge that they could be arrested.
Some have learned how to extract the oil themselves and grow their own
cannabis plants. Some seek relief from black market suppliers, and some
rely on overseas shipping from countries where medical marijuana is
"Reefer Madness" seems to be alive and well in the UK. Despite the
growing body of evidence that cannabis and medical marijuana can provide relief to those
suffering from cancer, numerous countries legalizing medical marijuana,
and the pleas of many in the UK’s medical community, the UK continues to
treat cannabis as a dangerous drug.