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Dear IDMU - Could you please explain what the House of Lords debate was about.

On 11th November 1998, the House of Lords Science & Technology committee recommended that doctors should be allowed to prescribe cannabis for medical use.

The committee, comprised mainly of eminent retired scientists, considered evidence from a wide variety of witnesses, including academic researchers, clinicians, patients, governmental agencies, patients" rights groups and Christian anti-drugs organisations. They recommended that cannabis be rescheduled from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 (of the 1985 Misuse of Drugs regulations) pending application for product licences of therapeutic cannabinoid derivatives, intended to encourage research into medical benefits and side-effects.

Their Lordships go further than the 1997 BMA report by stating that medicinal use need not be confined to synthetic derivatives, but to plant extracts, and that research could include smoked material, although smoking was not recommended as a treatment option once alternative delivery methods are developed (e.g. inhalers, sub-lingual or rectal preparations) which give a similar rapid-onset effects with minimal carcinogens from smoking. Synthetic cannabinoids include Nabilone and Dronabinol. Nabilone (an analogue of THC) costs the NHS over £100 for 20x1mg capsules (i.e. £5000 per gram, around 50-100 times as expensive as natural THC in resin or skunk at "street" prices), Dronabinol (synthetic THC, trade name "Marinol) is "significantly more expensive" than nabilone.

The committee did not recommend any change in the law prohibiting recreational use of cannabis, considering factors justifying the present ban to include psychological or physical dependence in regular heavy users, risks to people with heart conditions, a risk of exacerbating pre-existing mental illness, and the general and carcinogenic effects of smoking. However the committee only considered a limited range of factors involved in the general legalisation debate, and may have included these negative recommendations to make the rest of the recommendations more palatable to the government.

The government is obliged to respond to the report, and to consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for advice before doing so. Initial responses suggest the governmental response will be the usual rejection of reform proposals, although there are indications that further research will be encouraged, and that product licences may be granted following clinical trials.

The report is available from HMSO bookshops for £9.50, with the evidence published separately at £22.60. The full text of the report is also available on the internet (http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld/ldhome.htm).

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