Re-medicalizing cannabis : science, medicine and policy, 1973 to the early twenty-first century

Taylor, Suzanne; (2010) Re-medicalizing cannabis : science, medicine and policy, 1973 to the early twenty-first century. PhD thesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. DOI:

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When cannabis-based medicine was withdrawn in the UK in 1973 it appeared cannabis' career as a medicine had ended, but even as cannabis became regulated solely as an illicit drug, it appeared it was being re-medicalized. This thesis, framed as a history of science and policy-making, studied cannabis' re-medicalization from 1973 and in so doing analysed the process whereby boundaries shift between illicit 'drug' and licit 'medicine' and the issues and interests involved. It argues that changing scientific knowledge, from the synthesis of THC to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, spurred by individual scientists, developing scientific disciplines, and advances in technology all contributed to a shifting environment around cannabis and opened-up new avenues for cannabis as a medicine. Initially, interest and funding were directed to the cannabis field through political and social fears over cannabis' recreational. Driven by drug control imperatives expert committees, in particular, the working groups of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs provided an early arena for discussion and stimulated research on cannabis which led ultimately to increased research on medical applications. The study reveals that although international and domestic drug control systems acted as countervailing forces, they provided spurs to re-medicalization as pressure mounted to isolate calls for medical cannabis from legalization arguments. In transforming the concept of cannabis, the drug, into cannabis, the medicine, the pharmaceutical industry was fundamental, through the provision of synthetic cannabinoids and finally plant extracts with the development of GW Pharmaceuticals and their product Sativex. The incentive to study cannabis as a medicine would not have emerged, as it did, without user activism and the thesis argues that in the UK it was pressure from Multiple Sclerosis sufferers that encouraged research and its direction. Once legitimacy was conferred by influential professional bodies, such as the BMA, and the House of Lords there was a concerted effort to place cannabis into the clinical trial system and through regulatory processes. Re-medicalization could exist within the drug control system and discourse shifted towards the drug control framework and the relative positions of both licit and illicit drugs.

Item Type: Thesis
Thesis Type: Doctoral
Thesis Name: PhD
Contributors: Berridge, V (Thesis advisor);
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