Cannabis has been a hot topic in the press this last week, with two seemingly contradicting stories gaining wide coverage.
One of the stories was about a new trial that will see 5,000 Brits given cannabis to see how effective it is in the treatment of chronic pain.
The other story is about a poor young lady who died after consuming a “cannabis gummy.” However, read beyond the alarming headlines and you’ll soon realise that the sweet contained synthetic cannabinoids (AKA spice) – not natural cannabis.
While the first story is a good example of how cannabis is increasingly being recognised as a medicine in the UK, the second story highlights the lazy reporting by mainstream journalists who seem reluctant to drop the click-baiting headlines and demonisation of cannabis.
What are synthetic cannabinoids?
Also known by names like spice and K2, synthetic cannabinoids are a class of designer drug molecules that bind to the same receptors in the body and brain as naturally-derived cannabinoids.
Despite the fact they bind to the same receptors as natural cannabinoids, synthetics have very different effects.
Whereas natural THC causes relaxation, euphoria, increased appetite and anxiety at high doses, synthetic cannabinoids cause agitation, rapidly increased heart rate, confusion and loss of bodily control.
In fact, while naturally grown cannabis has a very strong safety profile and is almost impossible to overdose on, synthetic cannabinoids regularly kill.
Can cannabis kill?
It’s almost impossible to die from consuming natural cannabis. The only real danger is taking too much THC for your level of tolerance, resulting in a racing heart, possible palpitations and often intense paranoia or anxiety.
However, serious issues are extremely rare and there are many common substances that are far more dangerous, including tobacco, alcohol, peanuts, shellfish and coconuts.
Therapeutic effects of cannabis
Cannabinoids have been found to offer a whole range of health benefits and to be useful in treating a number of conditions. And that includes THC, the cannabinoid that gets you ‘stoned’.
For example, cannabinoids have strong anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties that can help treat brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, while it’s also effective for arthritis, some autoimmune conditions and chronic pain.
THC is also effective at treating some forms of epilepsy, while CBD has potential in treating mental health conditions including addiction and anxiety disorders.
The medicinal properties of cannabis are so undeniable that even the UK government has had to acknowledge them by legalising medical cannabis back in late 2018.
While it’s still difficult to get on the NHS, a number of private cannabis clinics have now sprung up around the country and thousands of prescriptions have been written and fulfilled.
The UK mainstream press has a long history of misrepresenting cannabis. Every few months there will be a story about cannabis killing this person or destroying this person’s life.
At the same time, as cannabis science progresses, you’ll also often see articles highlighting incidents where cannabis has been used to treat some untreatable health conditions such as epilepsy, arthritis, and even cancer.
With muddled reporting like this, it’s no wonder that cannabis is such a confusing and controversial subject among the UK population.
The reasons for this lazy reporting are numerous. For example, there is a strong stigma still attached to cannabis, despite it being legal for medical use since 2018. The science on cannabis can also be contradictory and difficult to understand.
Perhaps the biggest driver behind the media’s cannabis alarmism, however, is the facts that scare stories about cannabis get attention and clicks, which leads to greater revenue for publications. Because of this, publishers are incentivised to produce eye-grabbing headlines about cannabis, even if they aren’t as accurate as they could be.
Unfortunately, that has a big effect on the public’s perception of cannabis. However, it also provides a need for independent publications like High & Polite, where we take pride in telling the truth about cannabis – the good and bad.