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How cannabis has gone from class B to the A-team

Is cannabis really leaving the fringes to become big business? Martin Robinson finds out more
How cannabis has gone from class B to the A-team
June 12, 2017   |    Martin Robinson

Whenever the doctors’ backs were turned in the hospice, 13-year-old Deryn Blackwell’s mother squeezed liquid cannabis tincture under his tongue. Deryn was just days from death due to the extremely rare langerhans cell sarcoma and his mother was alarmed by his levels of physical pain and resistance to morphine. Within a week, Deryn’s condition improved dramatically. He’s now aged 17 and cancer-free.

When this story broke in March, it marked a pinnacle for cannabis’ new-found reputation for near-miracle medicinal properties. But while many of the tabloids ran sensationalist headlines, it’s important to note Deryn’s turnaround cannot solely, or scientifically, be atributed to homemade cannabis oil.

It may be the soft high that even your mum has tried, but cannabis has never truly been mainstream. Yet as certain countries, and several US states, have legalised it, and are blowing its benefits in people’s faces, things are changing.

Cannabis’ growing reputation in medicine is begrudgingly acknowledged by UK authorities. In 2014, the drug Sativex, a nasal spray containing marijuana’s active ingredients, became available on prescription to treat MS-related spasticity.

Although it’s only available in Wales (the NHS deemed it too expensive), this has led to GW Pharmaceuticals growing huge marijuana crops at an 18-hectare glasshouse in Norfolk. The intention is to produce – for the US – another experimental drug, Epidiolex, which has shown positive results for children with epilepsy.

WONDER WEED

Unsurprisingly, a parallel industry of legal cannabis health products is also booming. Health foods, creams and even protein shakes are now using cannabis oil as an ingredient.

Vegetarian restaurant Farmacy in Notting Hill offers OMG Shots containing flaxseed oil, grapefruit and organic CBD powder. Carun Pharmacy in Twickenham sells medical organic hemp skincare ranges and supplements which have high levels of CBD and low levels of THC (cannabis’ psychoactive ingredient) so they are not acting illegally.

London-based raw food company and café Rawligion has released a cannabis-based ‘mylk’ drink called Relax, containing hemp seeds and cannabidiol. Development consultant Michael Isted says the formula ‘is used for a multitude of health issues, including anxiety, cancer (particularly the side effects of conventional treatment), pain relief, depression and sleep disorders.’

GETTING THE HEMP

What these products won’t do, however, is get you high. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a natural compound in cannabis plants, but it isn’t hallucinogenic or mind-altering. Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis sativa plants, but in hemp there are only trace amounts of THC – less than 0.3%. Anything above 0.3% is illegal. Nutritionist Ian Marber says: ‘Hemp contains the tiniest amount of THC – so small it’s irrelevant. It wouldn’t be sold otherwise.’

However, while these products are basking in a degree of reflected glory, hemp does have its benefits. Ian adds: ‘Hemp seeds contain decent amounts of fatty acids, omega-3, protein, calcium, magnesium and iron. They also contain GLA and omega-6, fats that are good for hormones.’

HIT THE HIGH NOTES

CBD is one of over 80 cannabinoids in all cannabis varieties, and there is growing belief that these have as many benefits as THC-heavy strains used in medicine. Michael effuses: ‘The cannabis plant is almost the perfect plant. Humans are supposed to have a relationship with this plant because we have cannabinoid receptors all over our bodies.’

Cannabinoid receptors do exist as part of the central nervous system, helping to regulate functions including appetite, pain sensation and mood. Studies, including one at Yale University, have shown cannabis stimulates these receptors, although with milder forms derived from hemp, you get milder effects. Ian’s take is: ‘Hemp may be good for hormones and it’s anti-inflammatory. But so are avocados, only better. It’s not unique.’

So hemp and CBD are good, but a little ‘meh’. Will we ever be able to get the real deal over here? The supposedly cancer-curing stuff? Well, the clamour is rising again. In March, Oxford University announced a £10million study into the benefits of marijuana in treating
pain, cancer and inflammatory diseases.

It’s backed by X-Men star Sir Patrick Stewart, who was prescribed ‘cannabis-based products, which I was advised might help the arthritis in my hands. As a result, I enthusiastically support the Oxford University cannabis research plan.’

Patrick lives in California, one of nine states to have legalised marijuana for recreational use, and one of 29 with medical marijuana available. It’s not clear how Donald Trump will deal with the situation, but since the legal cannabis market was worth $7.2billion in 2016, and is projected to grow by 17% a year, it may be protected by Mr Art of the Deal.

For the same reason – money – it’s not ridiculous to imagine legalisation will also happen in the UK. Until then, the black market supplying sufferers of various conditions will thrive. The rest of us curious types will have to settle for chewing hemp seeds while listening to Bob Marley’s Legend.

NO DEALER REQUIRED

Perfectly legal cannabiniod products

CBD Oil Drops

These oil drops, straight from the cannabis sativa plant, come with the line ‘THC is the stuff that gets you high, CBD is the stuff that makes you feel better.’ Do not use with a bong. £21.99, Canabidol

Hemp Ointment

This cannabinoid barrier cream, which is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, may be useful for skin conditions such as psoriasis, burns, stings and dry skin. Don’t make into cookies. £16.99, Carun

Naturya Hemp Protein Powder

A protein supplement made from milled hemp seeds, which includes good omega-3 and iron elements, too. Do not roll in cigarette papers and smoke. £10.99, Planet Organic

Read more: Is cacao the new cocaine?

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