Intended for healthcare professionals


Cannabis as medicine

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 16 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2130
  1. Giles Newton-Howes, senior lecturer
  1. Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand
  1. Giles.newton-howes{at}

Evidence supports reform to allow the legitimate study, regulation, and prescription of therapeutic cannabinoids

From its first recorded uses in China through to the early 20th century, cannabis has had a place in the pharmacopoeia. Queen Victoria’s personal physician, Russel Reynolds, opined in the Lancet in 1890, “Indian hemp, when pure and administered carefully, is one of the most valuable medicines we possess.”1 This opinion was based on current best evidence: the careful and documented observation of its effects in medical conditions.

In a similar vein, calls have been made to reconsider the role of cannabis in today’s society. Two well informed British politicians recently told The BMJ, “We have heard striking testimonies from patients… that cannabis has ‘given them their life back.’”2 Added to this, the international position on cannabis as a potential medication has changed, with international agencies and many governments relaxing a prohibitionist stance.

Internationally, there has been an important shift away from prohibitionism, allowing cannabis to …

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