When opioids are killing so many young people, we can no longer ignore harmless alternatives like cannabis oil (CBD).
It shouldnât take the deaths of young people to get politicians to act, but too often it does.
And sometimes, even death has no effect.
We should be very concerned by a new study from the US showing that drugs like OxyContin and Tramadol are responsible for 20% of deaths among young people.
This has risen from just 4% a mere 15 years ago.
We have our own growing crisis around the use of opioid painkillers, prescriptions for which â including tramadol, morphine, codeine and fentanyl â have doubled in England in the last 10 years.
According to the BBC, some 28.3million opioids were prescribed by GPs in 2017 â the equivalent of 2,700 packs an hour. The figure is 10 million more than the number of opioid prescriptions in 2007.
An inquest this week found that more than 450 patients died after being given strong opioid painkillers inappropriately at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, highlighting how powerful these drugs are and how dangerous in the wrong hands.
The news comes as politicians in this country come under increasing pressure to legalise cannabis oil after high-profile cases of children being denied treatment for potentially fatal epileptic seizures.
There is growing evidence that varying forms of cannabis, and the related non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol (CBD), can have a remarkable effect on a wide range of conditions, from epilepsy and chronic pain to heart conditions, MS, fibromyalgia, anorexia and alcoholism.
There are positive signs that politicians are listening, and the government has ordered a review of legislation in the case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who had a supply of cannabis oil from Canada confiscated by authorities.
While Billy was given a temporary reprieve in the form of a 20-day licence for his medicine, the battle is far from over.
Hannah Deacon, the mother of a six-year-old boy with severe epilepsy, was granted a private meeting with Theresa May over fears that her son Alfie could die without cannabis oil. The prime minister gave personal assurances that Alfieâs case would be looked into.
Mrs Deacon said: â[Theresa May] looked at me. She met my son and she told me that they would find a way in which our clinicians could be issued with a Schedule 1 licence to give my son the medicineâŚ I believed her.â
The cannabis oil, which has had most of the psychoactive component THC removed, treats the 150 life-threatening seizures Alfie suffers every month, reducing it to just one.
It took three months â and 450 seizures â for that licence to finally be granted on 19 June.
Buying CBD is currently legal in this country, but there are people working to get it banned. And the high-dosage forms of cannabis oil that epilepsy sufferers need is available in many countries on prescription, but not in the UK. Cannabis itself is a Class B illegal drug, and possession can result in up to five years in prison.
The threat of such a hefty prison sentence surely reflects some sort of grave risk. So just how many deaths have been attributed to all cannabis and hemp derivatives put together? Zero. None.
So why on earth is this plant illegal? The answer is a cocktail of deception, self-interest and cowardice.
How cannabis was criminalised
âCannabis first became illegal in the UK, and most of the rest of the world, on 28 September 1928 when the 1925 Dangerous Drugs Act came into force. There were no British domestic reasons, no lobbying for or against prohibition, and no Parliamentary debates.
The Act controlling âIndian Hemp and all resins and preparations based thereonâ had been passed after Britain signed the 1925 Geneva International Convention on Narcotics Control, organised by the League of Nations.
Asked what it was all about on a slow day in Parliament, a junior Home Office Minister explained that the Convention could not be ratified without an âimportant but smallâ law being passed. âWhat it does is include coca leaves under a former Act. They are the real basis of cocaine â we place them in the same category as raw opium.â Cannabis itself was ever mentioned aloud.
For centuries hemp, closely related to cannabis, was a very important crop, with endless different uses from clothes and rope, to sails and paper.
By the early 20th century it was predicted by the US Department of Agriculture to become the countryâs biggest crop. But in the 1930s, hemp came under attack from the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
He had invested heavily in wood-pulp production and feared competition from hemp. He blurred the lines between hemp and cannabis, and published a string of propaganda pieces saying that cannabis was used by âlazy degenerate Mexicansâ and was a âshort cut to the mental asylumâ.
Hearst had help from powerful friends, and a propaganda film called Reefer Madness showed people losing their minds after one puff of a joint. The result was both hemp and cannabis becoming illegal.
America appears finally to be waking from this bullshit-induced slumber, with many states legalising cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use. But in the UK we are still stuck in the propaganda years. False ideas of cannabis being a âgateway drugâ still persist, as does the stereotype about cannabis making people lazy.
There is certainly some abuse of cannabis, but mostly that is ridiculously strong âskunkâ â the genetically modified evil cousin. Comparing cannabis in its natural form to skunk is like comparing your grandmotherâs glass of sherry to a litre bottle of absinth.
I have personal experience of most types of painkiller. Following a serious leg-break ten years ago, I was put on a high dose of opioids.
These drugs are absolutely necessary in the medical environment, but in recovery it is quite another thing. After a while they really start to mess you up â I felt consistently exhausted and increasingly depressed. I had to stop for my short-term sanity, let alone the potential harm from long-term use. And of course the knowledge that one wrong dose can kill.
Now I regularly use CBD oil from truthnaturals.co.uk, which sells hemp-derived products that contains absolutely no THC, the compound in marijuana that gets you high. Far from making me lazy, CBD reduces pain and inflammation and allows me to work harder and do more sport.
Cannabis itself is an excellent painkiller, but I cannot buy it without becoming a criminal. If I want some heroin, on the other hand, all I need to do is book an appointment with my GP and tell them that my leg hurts. Within five minutes I will have a prescription for a painkiller with a reassuringly medical name.
But letâs be honest, opioids are simply clean, synthetically created versions of heroin.
Taking them comes with very real risks â according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, more than 2,000 of the 3,700 drug-related deaths in England and Wales in 2016 involved an opioid.
And after a while they do not even work that well on pain, which means they do not justify the dance with death.
With CBD, and with any sensible strain of cannabis, you are simply taking a plant that can make you feel better.
Cannabis became illegal because of lies fuelled by greed. It is now being kept illegal by politicians who are too cowardly to put their heads above the parapet. And of course by the drug companies that â and I choose my words carefully here â care more about making money than they care about keeping people alive.
The proliferation of a harmful drug, and the suppression of a safe drug are two sides of the same issue. The opioid crisis needs addressing honestly, and the criminalisation of a hugely beneficial plant has been a mistake.
Most politicians know this, but they are worried on the one hand about the health of the pharmaceutical industry, and on the other hand about how they will look to certain ill-informed members of the electorate if they start talking up the benefits of âwacky baccyâ.
Campaigning for legalisation has generally been a muted activity, occasionally brought up by fringe figures and Lib Dems. But things are changing.
Conservative William Hague this week called the UKâs drug laws âinappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of dateâ after intervening to release Billy Caldwellâs life-saving cannabis oil.
Saying nothing is no longer an option. Any politician who remains silent is backing the status quo.
People are dying, and enough is enough.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid on cannabis laws
Sajid Javid told the House of Commons that the ban on recreational use will continue, but he will consider the evidence for giving the drug on prescription.
âIt has become clear to me that the position we find ourselves in currently is not satisfactory,â Mr Javid told MPs this week.
âItâs not satisfactory for the parents, itâs not satisfactory for the doctors, and itâs not satisfactory for me.
âI have now come to the conclusion that it is time to review the scheduling of cannabis.â
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt acknowledged that the current laws on medicinal cannabis were not right, and said it was time to look for âa different wayâ.
Currently, the UK government does not recognise cannabis as having any therapeutic properties.