You might not quite have noticed, but Britain is in the midst of a cannabis revolution. This one plant, its proponents say, has the potential to reshape modern medicine. It’s happening quickly and quietly, with scientists and doctors ushering in a new era of hi-tech flower power. As of today, over 60 countries have legalized some form of medicinal cannabis: since November 2018, that’s also been the case in Britain. Some 30,000 of us have already been prescribed cannabis for conditions ranging from arthritis to epilepsy, anxiety to multiple sclerosis. Experts predict the list will soon grow longer, and specialist surgeries are springing up nationwide to cater for ever-growing demand.

At the Curaleaf Clinic on London’s Harley Street, I meet Chris Cowan, 47. He was 13 when he first smoked cannabis: one joint with friends, illicit and casual, in early 90s rural Warwickshire. It would be nine years before a doctor would diagnose him with clinical depression and many more until his PTSD would be identified. Medicinal cannabis was decades from legalisation and yet, as far back as then, he knew intuitively its effect on him was more than the hit of a recreational high. “While friends would be giggling or rolling around intoxicated,” he says, “I found a calm I’d never felt before – that’s the only way I can describe it. The older I got, the more I noticed. Cannabis was medicinal, alleviating the traumas in both my body and mind.” Only 30 years later would the British medical and legal system catch up.

In the meantime, Cowan illegally self-medicated, like 1.8 million others across the UK. “There were the practical issues,” he says. “The efficacy of what I could buy from street dealers was hit and miss. The product was totally inconsistent and unregulated.” The illegal market is a wild west, rife with contamination; authorized cannabis medicines, however, are tightly regulated. Worse for Cowan was the stigma. “Into my 30s and 40s, none of my contemporaries still used it. I felt ashamed of my reliance on what I was told was a harmful, illegal substance. My wife hated me breaking the law, it was a constant source of tension.” Twice, he tried antidepressants – neither time was able to cope with the side effects of sertraline.

In the UK, there has been no relaxing of rules for recreational cannabis, the change is purely medical. Cowan receives his prescription much like any other: appointments with specialist doctors, regular checkups, and medical-grade, heavily regulated products with strict guidelines for consumption. Medicinal cannabis comes in many forms: oils, creams, cartridges, and capsules. Some people, like Cowan, are prescribed the dried flower, which he vaporizes. The prescription process is stringent. Those referred need to have an existing diagnosis and to have already tried other conventional medical interventions. “Before this,” Cowan says, “as an adult, I’d have to sit in a yard waiting for some kid to turn up on a bike, then drive home paranoid that the police would pull me over just for accessing medication. When I found this clinic, I went from being criminalized to a normal member of society.”

Read more at theguardian.com