Is it time to legalise medical cannabis in the UK?

The case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell has given fresh impetus to the debate on medicinal marijuana, but reforming the law is difficult in an industry plagued by non-scientific methods

Charlotte Caldwell with her son, Billy, whose severe epilepsy improves with the use of cannabis oil. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

In around 2700 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, revered as the father of Chinese medicine, ate the flowers of a certain pungent weed. “Medical cannabis. Stop eating. Let go. Eat more, you will see white ghosts walking around,” he wrote in his pharmocopoeia, The Herbal. “Eat long enough, you will know how to talk to the gods.” Shen Nung claimed the plant could treat more than 1,000 ailments, a citation accepted by historians as the first reference to the medicinal qualities of cannabis sativa.

Five millennia later, and medicinal cannabis is the subject of fierce debate in the UK. On Saturday 16 June, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, allowed Charlotte Caldwell from Castlederg, County Tyrone, to resume the only treatment that stops her 12-year-old son, Billy, having daily, life-threatening epileptic seizures: cannabis oil containing illegal levels of the intoxicating compound THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), which is a non-psychoactive, legal cannabinoid.

Just days after resuming cannabis treatment, Caldwell says her son’s condition is markedly improved. “He’s progressing well. I’m in awe of him, he keeps bouncing back.”

The case has reignited the debate over medicinal cannabis in the UK, in what campaigners see as an unjustified and callous application of the law against

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