An independent ‘academy’ set up to teach doctors about how cannabis can be used as a medicine is owned by financiers looking to make millions from the drug, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The self-styled Academy of Medical Cannabis (ACM) purports to offer doctors impartial advice about how it can be used to help people with pain, epilepsy and other conditions.
It suggests patients smoke joints to soothe neurological conditions and eat gummy bears laced with the drug.
Launched last November, it describes itself as ‘a free and independent platform for all medical professionals to use’.
But it is actually part of a ‘portfolio’ of interests owned by European Cannabis Holdings (ECH), a company which seeks to ‘invest’ in the cannabis industry to create ‘significant value for our shareholders’.
Only on the academy website’s terms and conditions page is the link with ECH mentioned at all – and only then referring to it as ‘European C Holdings’.
Last night, leading doctors said the academy had a duty to come clean about its financial backers – and criticised its teachings on cannabis as ‘biased’ and ‘frankly dangerous’. The ACM’s director of education is neurologist Professor Mike Barnes.
The Mail on Sunday revealed last month that he is set to become a millionaire by selling a stake in his company – which has imported cannabis to the UK for medical use – to a Canadian marijuana conglomerate. Another part of ECH’s portfolio is a market research company called Prohibition Partners, which recently forecast Europe’s legal cannabis market would be worth £104 billion (1 847 billion) a year by 2028.
The academy has web pages and videos explaining the history of cannabis and how it can benefit patients. The videos are presented by Prof Barnes, who advises the pro-legalisation campaign group CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform, and Dr Edmund Bonikowski, a GP and rehabilitation specialist.
One section titled ‘How to ingest’ suggests methods including vaping the drug, taking capsules and oils, applying creams or patches containing cannabis, smoking joints and eating cannabis ‘edibles’, illustrated with an image of gummy bears. The site also compares smoking cannabis favourably to smoking tobacco, stating: ‘Unlike tobacco, there is no hard evidence that smoking cannabis causes lung cancer.’ In another module Dr Bonikowski cites studies in which patients with neurological problems smoked cannabis, with favourable results, but in the video he gives no caution about this method not being medically recommended.
Sam Ahmedzai, Professor Emeritus of palliative care at Sheffield University who reviewed the academy’s contents for the MoS, said: ‘This implied condoning of taking cannabis by smoking joints without being accompanied by any “health warning”, strikes me as misleading, irresponsible, and frankly dangerous.’
He was also concerned the content appeared to cherry-pick studies which came to positive conclusions about cannabis use.
ECH said the website clearly stated where more evidence was needed in certain areas of medical cannabis. Prof Barnes said he set up the ACM to educate doctors and it was free for anyone to use. He added: ‘I am paid nothing and do not wish to be paid anything. We have over 250 people now signed up and most are doctors. That’s a good start.’
Dr Boniwoski did not respond to request for comment.