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A History & Future of Cannabis in the UK

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A History & Future of Cannabis in the UK

A History & Future of Cannabis in the UK

The history of Cannabis in the UK is long, bizarre and at times immensely confusing. Hemp has been used for over 1000 years in Britain for clothing, fibres, food, oil and for the psychoactive effects. It was used to make paper (much early paper was made from hemp), the seeds were an important source of protein and oil, and the fibres make nice clothes, as industries are rediscovering. The ropes for ships were almost exclusively hemp, so much so that Henry VIII ordered that landowners grow hemp for the navy. One of the reasons for colonial expansion was the need for more hemp, it was that important a part of the economy.

Clearly, cannabis was a plant with many uses. As a drug, cannabis first made an introduction in the scientific world in the 19th century. A medical officer working for the East India Company brought strong strains of cannabis back from Bengal in 1842, claiming it had “anticonvulsant” effects. Soon an industry had sprung up for the medical uses of cannabis, with uses as wide as menstrual cramps, quinsy (inflammation of the throat), coughs, insomnia, and withdrawal symptoms. Tinctures and extracts appeared on the market and were widely available for over 100 years. This use of cannabis spread around the British Empire with the servants, or was picked up and used in the parts of the Empire that already used it.

If the reader has evaluated CBD before, that list of conditions cannabis was used for is remarkably like the conditions that modern scientists are “discovering” CBD is useful for. The question is why this is only being discovered now and why CBD and cannabis were prohibited for so long.

Cannabis Plants in the sun, closeup on leaves

What is CBD?

CBD is cannabidiol, one of the many phytocannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. It affects the bodies endocannabinoid system it a way that is unique and also affects multiple other systems in the body. The Endocannabinoid system is a network of neurons that extends throughout the brain and body, including the skin. It is non-psychoactive and has a proven safety record.

CBD Diagram, showing differences between CBD and THC

 

So Why is Cannabis Illegal in the UK?

The history of Cannabis in the UK is confusing. British India had tried to make cannabis illegal several times in the 19th century, before concluding in 1894 that “little injury” was caused by cannabis. However, territories like Singapore, Mauritius, Jamaica and Sierra Leone had all made the drug illegal by 1920. Cannabis was made illegal in Britain in 1928 because the drug was included in the International Opium Convention. The British had made enormous sums of money from India and China by selling them opium, in fact, they fought several wars because of it. Eventually, the populace gained independence and called for the prohibition of the trade, which was finalized in 1928. The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 was amended to include cannabis. The history of Cannabis in the UK was changed forever.

Because of the drug’s connotations with immigrants and poor people, there was little resistance at the time. It was not a widely used drug by the British population for medicine or recreation, so the prohibition had little noticeable effect. It should be noted that at this point, the USA was making cannabis illegal at the same time, Britain jumped on board with the USA. The Americans prohibited cannabis partly due to the lack of understanding of the effects of the drug, its association with what they called “degenerate negroes” (honestly!), and the pressure from the wood pulp industry, which saw hemp as direct competition for making paper. Even then, the evidence that cannabis caused harm was not in existence, but the policy makers of the time were unaccustomed to making policies based upon scientific facts, much as they are now.

By the 1960’s, cannabis had become a popular drug for young people, that chimed with the anti-establishment ideals of many “hippies” and revolutionaries. The conservative ruling class sought to crush this individualism and questioning of the social order, one way they did this was to prohibit the drugs they thought were responsible for all the young people rejecting their ways of life. Obviously, this was preposterous and ineffective, but by 1973, well over 11,000 people were being arrested in Britain for the possession of cannabis every year.

From 1971, cannabis and all the related cannabinoids were classed as a “class B” drug, alongside some opiates like ketamine, which has a demonstrably addictive and dangerous profile. The policies regarding cannabis (and therefore CBD) were mostly emotionally driven, appealing to the desire to protect children from “corrupting influences”, a need to “maintain social order”, and a total disregard for the available evidence.

 Sun shining trough the leaves of a cannabis plant

The Rise of Cannabis

Cannabis was isolated quite early on when researchers were looking at the contents of the cannabis plant, but most strains of cannabis were bred to be high in the psychoactive THC. It was only in the 1990’s that CBD was identified as one of the reasons cannabis was so successful (anecdotally) in treating pain, nausea and other conditions. Licenses were granted in the late 90’s in the UK to grow and medical cannabis for clinical trials. CBD emerged from this early science as one of the most hopeful candidates for a cannabis-based medicine.

It is only recently in the history of CBD in the UK that strains of cannabis rich in CBD have been bred and sold. While Britain is the largest producer of medical marijuana in the world, with a 50% share of the world market, some cannabis products remain illegal for recreational and most medical uses. There have been many advances in CBD based drugs available for epilepsy, addiction and muscle pain, but Cannabis as a whole remains a tightly controlled substance that could end a careless user or producer in prison for a long time. It is medically licensed, but only in its pure form.

Cannabis plant silhouette 

The Future of Cannabis in the UK

The blind hypocrisy of the prohibition of recreational cannabis while members of parliament profit from the production of the drug is starting to become clear. The costs of prohibition are huge to the government and society, while the gains have yet to be demonstrated, even after 50 years of severe criminalization. The UK produces massive amounts of excellent cannabis, it remains a very popular drug, and the quality and distribution have been improving, regardless of the thousands sent to jail each year for possession or selling the drug.

Only with legalization and proper scientific scrutiny can the true effects and benefits of Cannabis be evaluated. That someone in the UK, a “civilized” nation, could be sent to jail for possessing a beneficial plant will seem preposterous to following generations, but it remains a clear and present issue. Hopefully, a government that is more receptive to logic and reason will be elected, and people like Paul Nutt, who was infamously fired from his role advising the UK government on drugs policy for stating well known facts, will be allowed to influence policy. The history of Cannabis in the UK should drive the future.

Countries like Canada and Uruguay have already legalized, or are in the process of legalizing Cannabis and Cannabis oil, it is time laws in the UK followed suit.

Naturally, We at EveryoneDoesIt will always recommend the cleanest and healthiest means of enjoying your Cannabis such as Vaping.

 

Vaporizer collection button

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