07 Apr The Desperate Rearguard Action the British Medical Establishment is Fighting Against Cannabis

Professor Finbar O’Callaghan

This Arrogant Man Must Face Tough Questions About his Stance on

Cannabis, his Financial Interests and his Breathtaking Hypocrisy.

Professor Finbar O’Callaghan introduced himself at the recent oral evidence session of the Health and Social Care Committee in these terms:

“My name is Professor Finbar O’Callaghan and I am here as president of the British Paediatric Neurology Association which is the association which represents all paediatric neurologists in the UK. I’m also a consultant paediatric neurologist at Great Ormond Street, an epileptologist and professor of paediatric neuroscience at UCL. I have a particular interest in epidemiology and clinical trials and in particular running clinical trials in childhood epilepsy.”

It’s hardly surprising then that in such a pre-eminent position, his opinion on the use of medical cannabis in paediatric epilepsy is regarded as if it had the force of law amongst doctors. But I point you to his final sentence and his declared adherence to the doctrine and close involvement in the multi-million pound industry of clinical trials.

Note that Professor O’Callaghan is now becoming the medical establishment’s poster boy in opposing the prescription of cannabis as medicine. He is now disparaging its use for fibromyalgia in adults, something he is no more qualified about than a junior medical student.

Clinical trials cost tens of millions of pounds (at least) and their primary purpose, at which they do not always succeed, is to ensure the safety of experimental medicines, usually single molecule drugs, synthesised in a laboratory, which may be highly toxic. All such trials are financed by the pharmaceutical industry with the intention of gaining a licence (known as a marketing authorisation) to enable them to sell their medicines at what are invariably huge prices. The businesses and people involved in the clinical trials process earn vast amounts of money and have a vested interest in ensuring that the regulation of all medicines follows this route.

All clinical trials are conducted under the auspices of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), a government agency which is directed, managed and staffed almost exclusively by people who used to work in the pharmaceutical industry. They all continue to benefit financially from the self-reinforcing, self-regulating and self-serving medical establishment which is built on the pharmaceutical industry and its invention of clinical trials.

Clinical trials are the medical establishment’s ‘kool aid’. They are a panacea for doctors’ ethical and clinical decision making. If anything goes wrong, even the most horrendous, catastrophic results, if a doctor has prescribed a medicine which has been through the clinical trials procedure, they can wash their hands, disavow any responsibility and move on to their next ‘doctoring-by-numbers’ appointment. Increasingly, doctors make very few real decisions. Their actions are all pre-determined by protocols and drugs created and approved by the medical establishment.

So cannabis really doesn’t fit into this system and for Professor O’Callaghan unless any medicine goes through a clinical trial in the specialty which he behaves as if he owns – childhood eplipesy, it will never be good enough to get his endorsement and will therefore be shut out of normal practice and very difficult if not impossible for patients to access. It is, in fact, a ‘stitch-up’. A term the Professor will understand as he advocates slicing into a child’s brain in a surgical procedure before trying whole plant cannabis as a medicine.

Note that cannabis is not an experimental medicine, nor a single molecule drug, synthesised in a laboratory, nor is it highly toxic. It consists of around 500 molecules, is synthesised in a plant and has been in widespread use, we know beyond doubt, for at least 10,000 years. Currently it is in regular use by 250,000,000 people worldwide as a recreational substance. In modern times it has been in use as a medicine in Israel since the early 1990s, California since 1996, in Canada and the Netherlands since 2001. There is no evidence of any significant problems or side effects at a population level, none whatsoever where it is used as a medicine under medical supervision. The only evidence of any significant negative effects is where it is used in extremely potent form as a recreational substance by children and even then the numbers involved are tiny.

This is why in every jurisdiction throughout the world where cannabis for medical use is legally permitted, it is through a special system outside pharmaceutical medicines regulation. Every other government that has recognised the enormous benefit that it offers has come to the same conclusion: cannabis is a special case. It is much, much safer than pharmaceutical products. We need an ‘Office of Medicinal Cannabis’ as there is in the Netherlands, or ‘Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations’ as administered by Health Canada. Colorado has its ‘Medical Marijuana Registry Program’ and other US states have similar arrangements. Israel’s Ministry of Health has its ‘Medical Cannabis Unit’. In Australia, its equivalent of the MHRA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has established its own set of medical cannabis regulations.

None of this fits into Professor O’Callaghan’s model. His career and his income is founded on clinical trials and specifically in childhood epilepsy, regardless of the facts of actual experience in thousands of patients, he is going to do everything he can to prevent its use except on his terms. He has a glaring and outrageous conflict of interest and the failure of any other doctor to point this out simply demonstrates how powerful is the medical establishment and its mafia-like control of our healthcare system.

In his written submission to the Health and Social Care Committee, O’Callaghan had the audacity to attack Professor Mike Barnes, based on a scurrilous article in the tabloid Mail on Sunday, for his “significant financial interests in the cannabis industry”. He also attacks everyone else who has any knowledge or experience in the area, denigrating them as “experts” (in inverted commas). O’Callaghan’s hypocrisy is breathtaking and it is time the sycophantic, uncritical reporting of his opinions was highlighted. I have no doubt that he is an “expert” but he is not the only one and there are paediatric neurologists in Canada, the Netherlands and elsewhere whose knowledge and experience of prescribing cannabis vastly exceeds his own. He needs taking down a peg or two in the interests of children – and now adults – whose care he is interfering with.

Cannabis as medicine has never gone away, despite the best efforts of vested interests and the medical establishment to kill it off. After almost a century of being demonised by governments, the media and every quack on a mission, whether qualified or not, it is here to stay. This doctrine of pharmaceutical drugs, clinical trials and ruthless suppression of empirical knowledge has only been around for that same 100 years. Modern, reductionist medicine has great deal to offer but so does the wisdom of ages and the plants that have long helped us cure, heal and maintain our health. They can co-exist and we must put aside arrogance and self-interest in order best to serve the people.


  • Wendy Goodwin

    I watched the two and half hours of this select committee meeting and was impressed by prof Mike Barnes and the guy from “End our Pain” who was visibly shaking with anger at what the government was doing and these others that were putting barriers in the way of children getting their medication. Dame Sally was still continuing her role in keeping the stigma of cannabis rolling along but have no fear! The Queen has stepped in and given her a new role as Chancellor of top University, hope it isn’t Kings, so we will get a new Chief Medical Officer of England who might have a more current educated knowledge of the Endocannabinoid System(ECS) and cannabis. The other two medical experts particularly the guy above were arrogant and lacking in current knowledge. They are the guys that are holding up cannabis medicine to all who would benefit from cannabis. In all of this upset we still do not have the ECS in the curriculum and nobody seems to be addressing this. It is a shame that “stoners” know more about it than MPs,CCGs,NHS, or GPs and the CBD social web sites are giving out much needed information about it.

  • discerner

    How fail-safe are clinical trials anyway? One disaster that springs to mind is the horrors of thalidomide which caused abnormalities in developing fetuses with horrific consequences for the unfortunate children born with such abnormalities. Thalidomide was subject to clinical trials, as have other pharmaceutical drugs which have been withdrawn from use after been trialed due to ‘unforeseen problems’. Clinical trials then, are not necessarily a definitive solution to the problem of finding medication that is completely safe for the public to use – if there is such.

    Medicinal cannabis upon the basis of the above is not completely safe for everyone who uses it – one man’s meat is another man’s poison. However, cannabis as a medicine has a long ‘clinical history of patient usage’, that in the main has not been too deleterious for patients compared to clinically trialed and available pharmaceutical drugs.This should be borne in mind and investigated by the doubtful doctors of the medical profession in the UK.

    The cannabis detractors in the medical establishment should embrace the cannabis medical revolution if they are really concerned about caring, treating and offering various medical solutions to myriad of ailments that affect their patients. So what is the real reason for the unfounded and poorly excused reasons given for their reluctance to accept medical cannabis? Consideration of what is the most effective and reasonably safe option for their patients seems not to include the ill-judged cannabis option. This may be due to professional negligence, pure ignorance, or pressure from elsewhere.

  • Dan

    At (14:46:44) Prof Andrew Goddard brazenly mislead the committee stating that the only randomised double-blind placebo study using a CDMP in chronic pain showed no difference compared to placebo for spontaneous pain. What he didn’t tell the committee was that study looked at spontaneous pain to simulate acute pain like being hit with a hammer and pressure pain to simulate chronic pain which had a significant benefit. Results were 90% received a minimum of 30% reduction in pain and 30% a 50% reduction. Out of 25 patients 5 withdrew from the study, 3 for fear of needles, 1 for unknown reasons and only 1 due to side effects and no serious adverse events occurred. Sharp contrast to his earlier claim (14:38:50) that only 1 in 24 patients would receive a benefit but you would need to only treat 6 to cause 1 case of significant harm. This guy disgusts me as this was a deliberate misrepresentation to a parliamentary committee, he needs calling out and holding to account.