Medical use of cannabis should be decriminalised, says RCN congress

Decriminalise use of the class B drug for medical purposes, nurses urge

Cannabis should be decriminalised for medical use in the UK, nurses say

Tracey Risebrow.
Picture: John Houlihan

An overwhelming number of RCN delegates voted in favour of calling for the decriminalisation of medical cannabis during a congress debate in Belfast.

Proposer Tracey Risebrow said the only form of the class B drug currently sanctioned for medical use in the UK – in limited circumstances – is a spray called Sativex, which is available on the NHS in Wales to patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Growing evidence

RCN Suffolk branch vice-chair Ms Risebrow said a growing body of evidence showed cannabis can relieve MS symptoms and help those with chronic pain.

‘People who currently self-medicate are deemed criminals under the law,’ Ms Risebrow continued.

‘I ask you this: where are they getting it from? How do they know what they are receiving is suitable for their condition? How do they know the drug dealer isn’t putting a little something extra in to get them addicted and keep coming back for more?


  • Cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1971
  • It is a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act
  • The maximum sentence for possession is five years in prison and a fine 

Source: Drugwise

‘There is no monitoring of these patients – they may not want to tell health professionals they are using cannabis.

Geoff Earl.
Picture: John Houlihan

‘As health professionals you need to know everything your patient is taking to effectively monitor and treat their condition.’

Cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1971, yet there has been continued debate about its use for medical purposes.

Look at the facts

Edinburgh nurse Geoff Earl told congress: ‘Let’s stop repeating the lame cowardice that successive governments have shown since the 1970s, let’s look at the evidence and base our practice on that. Let’s start being a voice for our patients.’

Mr Earl gave an example of a five-year-old boy from Edinburgh with a rare form of epilepsy.

The child has up to one hundred seizures an hour and there are no medicines that can treat the condition, but Mr Earl said medicinal cannabis can sometimes help people with this condition.

‘It gives hope, and an opportunity for him to live his life again,’ Mr Earl said.

Shirley Ali.
Picture: John Houlihan

Opioids in use, so why not cannabis?

Several nurses gave personal and professional accounts of the benefits, including one nurse who said she had lost a partner to paranoia caused by cannabis use.

She said 12 months ago she would not have supported the motion, but having seen what she believes are benefits for patients on her oncology ward using cannabis, she urged nurses to vote in favour and remove the need for patients to use disreputable sources to buy the drug.

Patricia Quinn, from Cym Taf branch, gave an account of a patient with terminal cancer going into remission after using cannabis oil.

Meanwhile, Shirley Ali, of the inner south east London branch, questioned why opioids, which carry many side effects, can be prescribed yet cannabis-containing medication cannot be.

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