Is Denying Patients Medical Cannabis a Breach of Their Human Rights?

Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi - Content Writer

Oct 21 2021 - 5 min read

Imagine you have a rare and/or extremely painful condition that is hard to treat – say, multiple sclerosis, a rare cancer, or a form of epilepsy like Dravet syndrome. All the medications you have been prescribed have several deleterious side-effects, and in some cases even highly addictive. Moreover, some or even all of these medications may not work, or only work for some segments of the population and not others. You are searching for something to help with your symptoms, and all the treatments you have tried yield little or no success.

Why Should I Try Medical Marijuana?

Research; street sign
Nick Youngson, NY Photographic; Alpha Stock Images

Then, you do as so many people have done, and start doing some research, trawling through as much scientific literature as you can. In your reading, you see a few particular terms come up over-and-over again: “marijuana”, “cannabis” and “cannabinoids”. This is because, in comparison to many other medications available, few have been as studied as cannabis. 

Indeed, there are drugs available on prescription that pass muster after only one or two trials – a lack of vigor that’s rarely, if ever, applied to cannabis.

The patient and/or caregiver, desperate and in pain, decides to delve further. They reach out to other patients who have experience using cannabis for their condition. They see the hundreds or thousands of patient stories available online. They try and find all the positives and negatives, and come to a conclusion. In many instances, they decide to try cannabis. Sometimes it may not work, but oftentimes it does. 

In fact, for some people, it is arguable that cannabis has saved their lives, or at least improved it significantly. Yet, if a patient were to do this, they would essentially become criminals in many places around the world. Were law enforcement to find out, they would take away the patient’s medication and arrest them. While special exemptions are sometimes granted on occasion, this is rarely the case – the law’s the law, and being sick does not mean you cannot be subjected to it.

A prisoner is shown a cage which is suspended from the ceiling; Joannes van Milder; W. Longman; Iconographic Collections; imprisonment; prisoner.
From Wellcome Images.

The Problem with Cannabis Laws

While the police upholding the law is not necessarily a bad thing, it is arguable that officials are upholding a bad law. Putting sick people in prison for using a medicine that is illegal is never a good look. In the past, imprisoning patients flew under the radar. However, when children like Ava Barry and Billy Caldwell come under the ordinance of the law and have their medicine denied, it becomes a matter of global news. “How can the government deny sick children the medicine that keeps them alive?” and “How can we keep a substance that helps people illegal?” are questions many ask. Surely, withholding medication that a person has decided to take themselves and is helping them lead normal lives – with scientific evidence backing their stories to varying degrees – is a violation of their human rights?

Law; justice; law book; gavel; sound block; mallet; hammer; book.
By Rifqi Jamal; from Wikimedia Commons.

In the past, the answer was quite simple. “We do not have the evidence to say that cannabis works for x condition for definite. Until we know better, we will keep it illegal.” Yet, with the amount of research coming out now on cannabis and cannabinoids, coupled with the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), this position is starting to look more and more tenuous. Yes, there are potentially negative side-effects, but this is no different from any other medication.

There are few if any substances that have the safety profile cannabis does, including the many drugs doctors prescribe every day. Yes, cannabinoid-based medications may not be suitable for everyone, but again, this fact is no different from any other medication. To malign cannabis in such a negative way when most of the science so far has said, “There’s a lot of potential in this plant, and we ought to explore further” is, put simply, a tragedy caused by preferring the narrative over the facts. Denying those who find solace in cannabis medicine is not only wrong, but reprehensible.

Issues with Legalizing Cannabis

So, is there any reasonable argument for not allowing patients to access medical cannabis? There are a few potential reasons, including lack of understanding about the potential long-term harms of cannabis, limited clinical trials and still-emerging knowledge on how the endocannabinoid system (ECS) works and what part it plays in the development of conditions. 

Perhaps the biggest and most reasonable argument, however, is this: “Nations have the right to determine what medications they allow to be used, based upon the scientific evidence their scientific and medical establishments determine to be acceptable medical practice.” There is a good reason for this, as otherwise some very bad medical practices can be carried out with little evidence and/or backing from the scientific community. Remember also that, for some politicians, admitting that cannabis might have legitimate medical uses may well bring them the ire of the people who vote them in, which adds an extra dimension of complexity.

Justice; blindfolded; justice isn't blind; blind justice.
From Pixabay.

Why Should Cannabis Be Legalized?

These are reasonable concerns, but not all of them stand up to scrutiny. First of all, there are many drugs we do not fully understand the pharmacology of and long-term damage they can cause. But this doesn’t stop doctors from prescribing these drugs when they might be useful. Second of all, there are a greater number of clinical trials taking place globally. Sure, some of them might not satisfy the phased trials, but many of them are indeed double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments generally showing positive results. 

Third of all, by keeping cannabis illegal, we are limiting our understanding of the ECS and the pharmacology of phytocannabinoids. In a sense, keeping cannabis illegal amounts to willful ignorance. 

To make matters worse, the law as it stands leads to the development of synthetic cannabinoids, which are often far more deadly than their natural counterparts. Then, we have shady salespeople and websites, willing to sell desperate people all sorts of snake oil in order to make a quick buck. Patients are not only breaking the law, but they are forced to go onto the black market, where they do not know if their medicine is safe, let alone contains the right cannabinoid-terpenoid profile ideal for effective treatment of their condition.

Label of Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Linament; snake oil; old medicines; snake oil salesman; Clark Stanley.
Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Linament, from before 1920.

The Case for Cannabis Legalization

All-in-all, keeping medical cannabis illegal is making governments look like they are living in the past and do not have a scientific understanding of the plant, preferring to rely on outdated notions made up by the propaganda of the 1930’s. Governments the world over seem to prefer to keep it like this and ignore the evidence. Whether this is because of special interests and cronyism or just good old-fashioned cognitive dissonance and an unwillingness to change their views, we do not know. Sadly, the ones who suffer are patients, and we fear that most of them do not have the time to wait for officials to change their mind.

“All Sovereign Human Beings have the freedom of consciousness, thought and expression of identity to peacefully pursue personal beliefs and practises and the right to make autonomous health decisions free from the fear of arrest and criminalization from the state.

Natural herbal cannabis has profound nutritional benefits through the regulatory homeostatic effects of the endocannabinoid system, and no government should dictate people’s nutritional, therapeutic, relaxational, spiritual or creative practices with humanity’s most ancient and traditional source of nutrition, herbal remedies, rituals and construction materials.

People shouldn’t be persecuted, criminalized or discriminated against for choosing natural herbal cannabis.” – Phil Monk, We The Undersigned (WTU)

If you are seeking legal access to cannabis medicine, Leafwell can help. Our physicians are available to guide you as you apply for a medical marijuana card and can help dispel harmful myths about this therapeutic plant. 

Download Our Guide To Your Cannabis Rights
Written by
Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi

Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women's health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero's Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.

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