6. What about Medical Use?
TOP Takeaway: Anecdotally, many individuals suffering from a variety of serious medical conditions derive therapeutic benefits from both THC and CBD, however the available evidence is insufficient to establish medical benefits. Legalisation will help gather evidence to ascertain the medical benefits.
The medicinal properties of cannabis, cannabis and THC remain disputed, partly because their legal status has prevented them from being subject to rigorous clinical analysis.
As many stakeholders appreciate, the formal clinical evidence base is incomplete, however there is agreement that many individuals suffering from a variety of serious medical conditions report therapeutic benefits from both THC and CBD[i]. Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation.
Although there are many medical-cannabis dispensaries in places such as North America that distribute cannabis products and derivatives with varying levels of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, these particular products have not been the subject of clinical trials. The anecdotal evidence however about high-CBD extracts reducing seizures—especially among children—has been convincing and likely explains why more than ten states in the USA enacted CBD laws in 2014.[ii]
Studies such as those run by the Cochrane Collaboration provide what are arguably the most rigorous assessments of the evidence for medical applications of cannabis and the chemicals it contains. These studies found that few available trials meet their methodological standards for inclusion and that the available evidence is insufficient to establish medical benefits.
This lack of evidence hasn’t stopped other political parties such as Labour and the Greens supporting legalising cannabis for medicinal use. This position has no basis in the evidence, but appears to be a way of pandering to the demand for liberalising cannabis laws without taking the political risk of backing full legalisation. As usual it appears Establishment Parties cherry pick the evidence to suit their polling.
The current lack of strong evidence reflects the enormous obstacles of doing cannabis research. Given the proliferation of medical-cannabis systems it is apparent that more and better clinical trials are needed. Helpfully as the stigma surrounding cannabis is slowly removed and more countries are looking at forms of regulation these studies should become more frequent and robust.
[i] op cit Canadian Task Force on Cannabis Legislation