Cannabis as medicine: more research needed, says WMA

Legislation to allow the recreational use of cannabis has been strongly opposed on health grounds by the World Medical Association. But in a policy statement today, the Association says that laws governing research grade cannabis should be reviewed to allow more scientific research on the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

At their annual General Assembly in Chicago, WMA delegates from more than 50 national medical associations, said more rigorous research was necessary before governments decided whether or not to legalise cannabis for medical purposes. At the moment evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis is inconsistent and of low to moderate quality. In those countries where cannabis has been legalised for medicinal purposes, the WMA says regulations are necessary

The WMA says that medical professionals often found themselves in a medico-legal dilemma as they tried to balance their ethical responsibility to patients for whom cannabis may be an effective therapy and compliance with local laws and regulations. This dilemma can affect both patients who may benefit medically from the use of cannabis, and those who are not likely to do so but pressure medical professionals to prescribe it.

Delegates at the Chicago Assembly strongly opposed recreational cannabis use because of the serious adverse health effects. These include the increased risk of psychosis, fatal road accidents, dependency, as well as harm to verbal learning, memory and attention. The use of cannabis before the age of 18 doubled the risk of psychotic disorder.

The WMA statement declares: ‘The ominously growing availability of cannabis or its forms in foodstuffs such as sweets and “concentrates”, which have enormous appeal to children and adolescents, requires intensive vigilance and policing’.

WMA President Dr. Yoshitake Yukokura said: ‘National medical associations should support strategies to prevent and reduce the use of recreational cannabis. It is also important that effective control measures are put in place to prevent illicit use of medical cannabis’.