More and more often reports about medicinal cannabis (MC) reach us through the media. Experts with very conflicting opinions are discussed extensively. For the layman, it is impossible to distinguish the facts from the prejudices in this academic disagreement. British neurologist Michael Barnes is trying to do something about this. He teaches the only course on the endocannabinoid system (ECS), required to understand the functioning of MC, to medical students in Great Britain and through the free online teaching program The Academy of Medical Cannabis.
Who is Michael Barnes?
- For three decades he has been a highly regarded British neurologist, specializing in neurological rehabilitation after brain injury.
- Today, his research focuses on the repair of brain damage, as well as the management of spasticity and medical cannabis. Twenty years ago he mainly studied multiple sclerosis (MS). It was then that he first heard his patients testify about cannabis use for therapeutic purposes.
- Around 2000, due to his expertise in MS, he was hired by the British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals (GWP) as an expert consultant in a research on cannabis as a treatment to combat the symptoms of MS.
- In May 2016, he and his daughter Jennifer (clinical psychologist) were asked by a British parliamentary committee of inquiry to write a report on the therapeutic effects of MC (the Barnes report).
- Together with a group of other people, he made sure that an epileptic boy could use MC legally. This was the first cannabis recipe in the UK.
- Last but not least, he thus teaches the only course on ECS to medical students in the UK and via the free online teaching program The Academy of Medical Cannabis.
The latter is super interesting. It is a free online training program designed for doctors, but it is accessible to everyone. Ten modules form the basic course. There are also several add-on modules that go deeper into specific themes such as pain, epilepsy, etc. The courses have been translated into different languages and have a country-specific module. Here the prescriptions for prescribing MC per country are explained.
Why do you still find very conflicting analyzes about the therapeutic effects of MC?
There are several aspects that play a role, the most important two in my view being the absence of knowledge and the power to keep this ignorance intact. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) was only discovered 25 years ago. The ECS is a very extensive neurotransmitter system in the human body that intervenes in many physiological processes.
MC interacts with the ECS and is therefore able to more or less counteract various disorders. But the incomprehensible problem is that, even today, the ECS is not included in the medical student's curriculum. Consequently, there is a great lack of knowledge among graduate doctors about the value of MC! In addition, at the top of powerful physician organizations, such as the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), especially older conservative doctors determine the therapies that deserve attention in medicine. They often do not even know the existence of the ECS.
As a result, there is hardly any enthusiasm in the physician world to refine the physician's knowledge through medical training or any in-service training. The RCP recently reported that, after studying the scientific literature, it found no evidence of the therapeutic effects of MC. I really wonder how they came to this conclusion.
You should definitely read the Barnes report. In this report absolute evidence has been found of the therapeutic effect of MC, especially in 4 medical conditions: chronic pain, nausea and vomiting, spasticity and anxiety.
numbers from CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The largest group that would benefit would undoubtedly be that of chronic pain patients (with the emphasis on chronic). Although not all of them would be helped with MC, the treatment could improve the symptoms of at least half of chronic pain sufferers. In addition, a significant group of pain patients could reduce or stop their opioid use altogether. Given the bad and sometimes fatal side effects of opioid use, this is in itself a real improvement. In the US last year, opioids caused the unwanted death of 64,000 sick people. Pharmacologically, you cannot die from the use of cannabis. As a medicine, it is generally a less toxic and therefore more safe choice.
Of course, much more research needs to be done into how MC works. There are also a lot of products on the market of which there is absolutely no proof that they actually work. We live in a free market, you know. All this makes it so difficult to distinguish facts from fiction. That is why it is so important that future doctors become acquainted with new methods and ways of thinking. Getting acquainted means getting interested in. This interest could eventually translate into more quality research. That is what we need.
Links to discussed documents and websites: