The British government’s former drug tsar has called upon doctors to embrace cannabis like they did penicillin 70 years ago.

Neuropsychopharmacology expert David Nutt served as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs until he published a controversial paper in 2009. It declared that cannabis should be reclassified as it is a lot less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, and the resulting outcry led Home Secretary Alan Johnson to sack him.

However, legal marijuana consumption has since become a lot more prevalent across the globe and it is now used to treat a wide range of medical conditions. That has vindicated Nutt’s stance and he was pleased to note that the UK government has now legalized medicinal cannabis consumption.

However, the “cruel and ridiculous” guidelines issued by the Royal College of Physicians and The British Paediatric Neurology Association make it very difficult for doctors to actually prescribe cannabis. Nutt acknowledged that the health sector’s use of marijuana has been much slower than patients and parents had hoped.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, he noted that penicillin was welcomed by British doctors 70 years ago, despite a lack of placebo-controlled trials of its effectiveness, because it filled a crucial clinical need. “If today’s medical profession could embrace cannabis in the same way as it did penicillin then the true value of this plant medicine should rapidly be realised,” said Nutt.

He argued that cannabis is arguably the world’s oldest medicine, with evidence of the Ancient Egyptians using it. He laid into the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for justifying its existence by vilifying cannabis and likened the anti-cannabis stance to the Prohibition on alcohol.

Nutt hopes to see more effective studies into the use of cannabis as a medicine, following a cancer research model.

The British government has not published any official figures on how many patients have been prescribed with medicinal marijuana since it was legalized in November 2018, but it could well be fewer than 100. Several NHS Trusts have also refused to pay for cannabis treatments, even if they are prescribed by a consultant, as they are unconvinced that marijuana treatment represents good value for money for the NHS.

This has stalled growth in a potentially huge market for the cannabis industry and campaigners are calling for a medicinal marijuana framework that better suits patients’ needs.