New marijuana legislation provides cancer pain hope   

Dr Ben Janaway  II  DEC 2 2016

New hope for cancer, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia patients today as new legislation in the Irish parliament paves the for controlled use of marijuana. The bill, proposed by the ‘People before Profit Alliance’, called for marijuana to be used chronic conditions.  The move follows a growing movement toward legalization across Europe, where a high level of research evidence suggests superiority for cannabinoid based treatments over the conventional.

'I share the concerns of patients who believe that cannabis should be a treatment option for certain medical conditions and I recognize the urgency and worry they feel.' Said Health Minister Simon Harris.

The move by the government concedes to the ever growing strength of evidence for the use of marijuana in chronic disease. Multiple studies have shown a significant benefit over and above the use of opioid medications for the control of pain in cancer and multiple sclerosis, as well as reducing anxiety.  Further use in migraine and glaucoma is also well evidenced, as well as use in nausea.

How does marijuana reduce pain?

Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body and play a role in modulating our experience of pain and stress. Commonly found in the brain, these receptors act to increase our perception of painful stimuli and environmental stressors. Researchers have found that cannabinoids, found in marijuana and in synthetic derivatives, are able to interact with these receptors to reduce pain and worry.  They have also found that this method is more effective than opioid analgesics, which have a reliability of less than 50% in some conditions.

Science over tradition

Conventional wisdom holds that marijuana use is of somewhat deplorable merit. However, the evidence suggests that controlled use in a medicinal form confers a greater healthcare benefit than ‘legal’ substances which produce similar or much more marked ‘highs’. Opioid analgesics, such as morphine, are less effective but carry higher side effect profiles and risk of overdose and withdrawal.  It may be considered ironic that legislation prohibits the safer based on terms of social perception. It is worth noting that Heroin is an opioid itself. One rule of one, one for another.

It seems that policy is following science and not tradition. Many European countries have now allowed for legalized use, as well as new legislation in Australia which allows for cultivation. A recent report by Baroness Meacher concluded that there is ample evidence for its use in UK medicine.  The new legislation is still to come into effect, but there are high hopes for the future.

Any opinions above are the author's alone and may not represent those of the NHS or Mind and Medicine. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.

Dr Ben Janaway is a medical doctor and Editor for the online healthcare and education  source ‘Mind and Medicine’. He writes regularly for and other national news sources. Contact Dr Janaway at with stories or for discussion

 Russo EB (2008) Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain ‘Therapeutics and Clinical Risk management’ 4(1) p245-9
 Grant I et al (2012) Medical Marijuana: Clearing Away the Smoke ‘’Open Neurology J’ 6 p18-2