Cannabis: Pleasure, medicine and mental health

First published: 30 March 2019 | Last updated: 09 October 2020


Professor Val Curran

Professor of Psychopharmacology

Val Curran is Director of UCL’s Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit, Professor of Psychopharmacology and Research Lead at Camden & Islington’s Drug Services.   She is a founding member of Drug Science. Her research is funded by the Medical Research Council and other bodies and includes a current clinical trial to treat cannabis dependence and brain imaging studies contrasting the neural and psychological effects of skunk as opposed to more balanced cannabis.  Her research spans a wide range of drugs which act on the brain and are used medically and/or for recreational purposes.  Recent talks (2014) on cannabis have been to the European Parliament, the Danish independent state of Christiania and the University of Cambridge.  Recent media appearances include the two Channel 4 Drugs Live programmes – The Ecstasy Trial and Cannabis on Trial.

Cannabis has been used for thousands of years as a medicine and for pleasure.  The vast majority of research on the drug, however, has focussed on its harmful effects, focusing on addiction, psychosis risk and neurocognitive impairment.  The last decade has produced insights into the importance of our brains’ own ‘natural cannabis’ (endocannabinoid) system.   We have also learnt more about how the cannabis plant contains about 100 completely unique ingredients we call ‘cannabinoids’ and levels of these vary widely in different types of cannabis.  We will look at how this variation influences the psychological effects of the drug and why some individuals are vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems.   Finally we ask what implications our increasing scientific understanding of cannabis has for current debates about medicalization and legalisation and argue that cannabis should be re-scheduled in the UK.


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