The herb instinct

19.12.07: CANNABIS has become Britain's drug of choice.

Since it was approved for medical use five years ago, sales of cannabis extracts have been rising steadily, according to a Royal College of Physicians report. It is part of a revolution in drug use. Alongside spectacular advances in new pharmaceuticals, there has been a surprising resurgence of herbal treatments.

'These have nothing to do with old-fashioned herbal teas or tinctures,' says Professor Adrian Dunlop, one of the authors of the report. 'These are standardised extracts of the whole plant, grown under carefully controlled conditions.'

There are five different cannabis extracts: one is used for treating strokes, another is a painkiller, a third reduces the severity of epilepsy. Other standardised extracts ­ available only on prescription ­ are used to treat eczema, arthritis and asthma.

'Test results show that they are as effective as their pharmaceutical equivalents,' says Dunlop. 'And they have fewer side effects.' JB