UK government to legalise Cannabidiol for medicinal use, SNP calls for independent regulatory power over drug

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The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has concluded that Cannabidiol (CBD) may now be referred to as a medicinal product because of its “restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions”.

According to MHRA, Cannabidiol has already been used in the authorised multiple sclerosis spray Sativex which in only to be prescribed.

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Petition, July 2015

Now, after a Parliament debate in September, following the campaign to legalise cannabis and the petition which gathered more than 150,000 signatures, the agency has concluded that Cannabidiol can relieve severe pain, caused by mental illnesses and other deceases. 

Until now, sale and usage of CBD was not illegal, unless the supplier implied that it had any medicinal effects and advertised it as a medical product.

The new legislation would mean that all CBD vendors would now need a licence to sell the product or face a fine or two-year prison sentence.

The Scottish National Party has shown support for the decriminalisation of cannabis for medicinal use and called for devolution and independent power for the Scottish government to regulate the drug, on Monday, October 17.

Jordan Owen, Managing Director of MediPen, one of the biggest suppliers in the UK, told The Independent: “Since our inception we’ve worked hard to obtain our goal of breaking down the negative connotations surrounding Cannabis to lead to a reform in the law for medicinal use.

“Now this is finally becoming a reality, which will provide ground-breaking results.”

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Image via http://www.medipen.co

Kiara McKenzie, 22, from Salford suffers from anxiety, panic disorder and borderline personality disorder, which mean that she is constantly “very nervous and anxious around other people” to the point where she feels sick every day.

She said: “The medication I have been prescribed in the past two years has been more of a sedation, to numb the pain and stop me from feeling.

“However, CBD calms me down, slows my brain and makes me feel better. With the CBD it’s a very smooth transition – I would take it and within the hour I would feel better because I realise I am doing things and it’s not painful”, she added.

Ms McKenzie explains that the THC in marijuana is what makes you feel “stoned”: “The CBD oil doesn’t content any THC so instead of making you feel high and wanting to lie down, it makes you want to do things. It makes your brain feel more alert.

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Marijuana

“For me everyday conversation is like being bombarded by feelings and words from other people, but when I’ve taken CBD it all comes a lot smoother”.

Ms McKenzie admits that she had to take a few puffs on the way: “I knew I would be very anxious, struggling to find words, I would be fiddling a lot with my hands, you would be able straight away to know I’m not comfortable at all.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this interview without CBD”, she said.

MHRA’s spokesperson has advised: “If you use CBD and if you have any questions, speak to your GP or other healthcare professional”.

The MHRA assessment:

‘The MHRA has now completed it’s review and has considered all information available to it relating to Cannabidiol(CBD) and having taken into account all the scientific advice and evidence, it has come to an opinion that products containing Cannabidiol will satisfy the second limb of the definition of a ‘medicinal product’ because it may be used by or administered to human beings either with a view to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action, or to making a medical diagnosis.’

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Salford professionals say children with SEN should be integrated in mainstream schools. For better or for worse?

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“Miss, they all hate me. They would never accept me.” Two sentences so simple, but so powerful. Two sentences filled with sadness and helplessness. These are two sentences Gabriela Hristova, a teaching assistant from Salford, hears on a regular basis.

Credit: www.gepl.org

Since graduating from the University of Salford with a BSc degree in Psychology in 2015, miss Hristova has been working in different nurseries and primary schools across Greater Manchester, helping children with special learning needs (SEN) integrate into a mainstream school, making sure their studies go smoothly.

Some of the children she deals with have Down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, or come from a difficult background.

But how well are they actually integrating? Do other pupils accept them, or do they get labeled and are avoided simply because they are different?

“People’s perception of children with special educational needs is that they are different in some kind of way, because they have extraordinary social and learning needs.

“Back in time, the popular opinion was that they needed to be in a special environment, outside the mainstream school.

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“Today, however, there’s a great emphasis on creating an inclusive learning environment that upholds pupil diversities”, miss Hristova says.

However, this approach can be quite controversial.

Noel Fagan, a learning disability nursing lecturer at the University of Salford, agrees there are both important advantages and disadvantages of this integrated system.

“Most kids with mental disabilities would also have some physical disabilities and it’s hard to imagine that mainstream schools would have the time, the technology, the knowledge, the expertise to meet those kinds of needs.

“Having worked with lots of parents over the years, most of them want their child to go to that kind of specialized environment rather than mainstream schools” Mr Fagan says.

He goes on to explain that what tends to happen, is that a child with Down syndrome, for example,  who is less physically disabled, often goes to a primary school with their brothers and sisters, but when it comes to high school at the age of 11, that’s when they go back to the special school provision. Mr Fagan believes that this has to do with the idea that they might be bullied and get picked on by older children.

And that actually tends to be the case in some classrooms.

There are some strong arguments against bringing children with different needs together, but there are different patterns around the world. For instance, in the Nordic countries – Sweden, Finland, they have a totally integrated education systems and there are no special schools.

“Research evidence indicates that actually more able and less able children both benefit from that integration, that more able children can help less able children to learn, they can be role models, they can motivate them”, Mr Fagan says.

via Personal Archives
via Personal Archives

He disagrees with how children are constantly being tested and evaluated in schools and believe this is a big part of why integration seems to be so difficult:

“I just think it’s the wrong approach – the idea that you could judge someone at six, or seven, or eight, and know what they are going to be able to do for the rest of their lives. I believe it’s a flawed ideology and yet, schools are becoming more and more selective on who they take in.

“If schools are competing with each other that militates against integration. We need to keep a more open mind about what children can achieve.”

Miss Hristova also believes an integrated educational system would be more beneficial, compared to separating pupils in mainstream and special schools.

“The problem with special needs schools is that they don’t prepare the rest of society for the fact that there are children with disabilities.

“So children without disabilities are unlikely to ever meet someone with special needs and therefore are not aware of what their needs might be; they might feel fear about it, might feel antagonistic towards them and not accept them because that is not something they have experienced”, she says.

Mr Fagan argues that there need to be a significant change in UK’s educational system as far as children with SEN are concerned:

“Idealistically, kids with all kinds of needs and talents should be educated together, so they can all benefit from each other. And research shows that this method works brilliantly.

“Unfortunately, this takes a lot of resources, invested in technology and training. And that is what the government should be focusing on, rather than converting schools to academies and education into business. Education is not a business. Neither are children.”

The changes 2015 brought to the cultural politics of Plovdiv. Where are we headed?

plovdiv-2019-evropeiska-stolica-na-kulturataWe are all still overwhelmed by the joy we felt when Plovdiv was pronounced the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2019 earlier this year. Our reporter, Yoana Nikolova looks into what happens after the euphoria and celebrations are over and it is time to get down to work. Realisation of the ambitious projects turns out be way more stressful than expected.

Disgruntled Emil Mirazchiev wrote #resignation in big red letters on the door of the town council after furiously leaving a meeting. The huge discontent about the changes in the events calendar for the new year and the tension in the town council escalated after the board decided to cut off the money for certain projects in order to finance others.

However, putting aside this and other disagreements about the financing of the cultural calendar and misunderstandings between the council and the artists, 2015 marked Plovdiv with receiving the title of Cultural Capital of Europe for 2019 and put the Town of the Hills on the world map for tourism and culture.

In the past year Plovdiv’s citizens have been overwhelmed by art exhibitions, theatrical and opera premiers, street – art festivals more than ever before. From various cultural events to restoration of old monuments, to reconstruction of main roads and outdoor areas the town has been transformed into a place for cultural education, more outdoor activities, more socializing, more music and dancing – a town worthy of the title Cultural Capital of Europe.

The initiative is amongst the most prestigious cultural events in Europe and its main purpose is to strengthen the link between all nations on the continent. The idea was born back in the summer of 1985 in Athens and was soon turned into reality.

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The new PLOVDIV 2019 sign in the town centre

Jose Manuel Barroso – President of the European Commission – said that the event has had a huge positive impact on each city. Glasgow won the title in 1990 and researches show that “the impact was dramatic in terms of building city confidence, of developing a strong strategic and practical base for future development. The event substantially changed people’s vision of Glasgow in the UK and beyond”, Mr Barroso said in an European Capitals of Culture publication for the foundation’s 25th anniversary in 2010.

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The Ancient Theatre of Plovdiv, believed to date back to 98-117 AD

Little did the world know about the fairly small town of Plovdiv before it was awarded the prestigious title. In fact, the city known as the hometown of the seven hills of the Rhodope mountain is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and also one of the oldest cities in the world. Plovdiv is a contemporary of ancient Troy and Mycenae still standing proudly by the seven hills.of Culture publication for the foundation’s 25th anniversary in 2010.

Until 23 May 2015, when Plovdiv celebrated the official designation of the European Capital of Culture title. Locals and guests celebrated under the motto Plovdiv TOGETHER with performances from the State Opera, Ensemble Trakia and Plovdiv Boys Choir, and 2019 balloons flew in the sky as a symbol of the emblematic year in which the town will actually host the event.

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Plovdiv May 23, 2015, celebrating the official designtion

Looking back, the mayor of Plovdiv Ivan Totev said he is proud to be the leader of the city right now when its star shines bright on the cultural map of Europe.

“We all, the people of Plovdiv, made a great effort during the past four years to prepare our town and make the change in it. And it has changed and this is visible already. Undisputedly, we still have many things to improve by 2019, but it’s important that we have started and I believe we’re on the right track”, he said.

Valeri Kyorlenski, the executive director of the initiative “Plovdiv Together 2019” explained that the foundation’s main objective is strategic development and realisation of the goals the committee has set for itself.

He continued: “The conception “Plovdiv Together” has the ambitious task to unite people from different generations, ethnicities and religions in the town and the whole south central region through culture in the widest sense of the word. At the same time “together” also means integration of the historical layers, concentrated in the region, modernity and vision for future development. Our foundation also aims at strengthening the link between all these people and the territory they inhabit by bringing public places such as the hills, the river, the parks, the streets and old abandoned buildings to life again and transforming them into areas for culture, sport and leisure.”

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Official logo

In its core, the European Capitals of Culture initiative is designed to highlight the richness and diversity of capitals in Europe, celebrate the cultural features Europeans share, increase European citizens’ sense of belonging to a common cultural area and foster the contribution of culture to the development of cities. In addition to this, experience has shown that the event is an excellent opportunity for regenerating cities, raising their international profile, enhancing the image of cities in the eyes of their own inhabitants, breathing new life into a town’s culture and boosting tourism.region through culture in the widest sense of the word. At the same time “together” also means integration of the historical layers, concentrated in the region, modernity and vision for future development. Our foundation also aims at strengthening the link between all these people and the territory they inhabit by bringing public places such as the hills, the river, the parks, the streets and old abandoned buildings to life again and transforming them into areas for culture, sport and leisure.”

Mr Ivan Totev added that the European Capitals of Culture initiative’s purpose is to be a “catalyst” for change in the areas of tourist development, increased inward investment, supporting the growth of new industries, physical regeneration, social engagement and enhanced pride in the city. He believes that the town of Plovdiv has long ago embarked on this journey to improvement when preparations for candidacy for the competition began four years ago.

“The improvement in the whole country began back in 2007 when Bulgaria became a member of the EU. Nonetheless, never has so much money been invested in culture before. We are moving as a country, making baby steps. And now because of this title, so much money is invested in one city and that’s why you can see the difference from the very beginning. This is an opportunity to put Plovdiv and the whole country on the world map of culture, tourism and education. In terms of history – it’s already here. We’ve been here for a long time and we’re here to stay – it’s just that no one really paid attention to us before. But now we have this opportunity to make the West realize Bulgaria is not a country from the Third world and we have a lot to offer – we’ve finally been offered a chance and we are taking it”, finishes the mayor of Plovdiv with a proud smile. He acknowledges that there is still so much to be done but says that he and his team have a plan and so many more projects are planned for 2016.

According to the ambitious cultural programme there will be an Island of Arts in the middle of the Maritsa river, the old tobacco warehouses in the city will be turned into cultural space, following the example of the extremely successful “Capana” (“The Trap”) transformation, the “Water Project” with approved financing of almost 100 million levs (£37 037 037) and many more.

One of the most important projects for 2016 is the excavations in front of the Episcopal Basilica in Plovdiv. This is the biggest Early Christian church found on the Balkans. The town council recently decided that this extremely valuable archaeological monument should be fully revealed and the priceless mosaics hidden under the road beneath the building should also be exposed to the public.

The “America for Bulgaria” foundation is actively working with the city council and is investing more than 5 million levs (£1 851 851) in this project. Architect Nikolay Traykov – manager of design and construction for the “America for Bulgaria” foundation, said the work should be finished by 2018.

He added: “All mosaics from the V and VI centuries are unreachable for us because they are under the road and so we don’t have any documentation for them. Their actual condition will be established after the excavation, but judging by the already found mosaics and architectural fragments they should be in a good condition and of extreme value.”

Mr Traykov said that the main purpose of the additional building will be to preserve whatever is found underneath, including the mosaics which will be exposed inside. The idea is that the new structure will protect the found valuables and emphasise on their worthiness. The foundation is aiming at maximum authenticity, according to the requirements of UNESCO.

“We fully understand that the closure of this main road during our work will be inconvenient to citizens, but even after the excavations the council plans to transform this into a completely pedestrian area anyway.

“We from the foundation and the city council both believe that the revealing of the whole Basilica is a historical obligation, a historical act that needs to be done”, Mr Traykov added.

Many locals have expressed their satisfaction with the council’s work so far through social media. The majority seems to be happy, seeing that all this money is used for improving the city. People say they are particularly satisfied with the new outdoor areas for sport and leisure and the cultural events taking place and that they feel ”the town is alive again”.

However, there are people who disagree with so much money being spent on events when the whole country is still struggling for financial stability. Borislav Iliev, a tax inspector for many years now, said he is extremely happy to see his hometown flourish, but at the same time believes that this money can be used for the “long – needed transformation of the whole infrastructure, health and improving of hospitals, more financial support for young families”.

Emil Mirazchiev, the angry artist who wrote #resignation in big red letters on the door of the council, said he strongly disagrees with the board’s decision to cut off the financing for projects such as the Beatbox World Championship, The “Ancient and Eternal” Dance festival, The Night of Museums and Galleries and many others.” Capana” (“The Trap”) fest and Plovdiv Jazz fest – two of the most successful festivals of the past year – have been cut off the cultural calendar for 2016 and will not be financed by the municipality, regardless of their success and popularity.

The board said that this way the saved 131 000 levs (£48, 520) will be used to finance other projects, previously not approved.

Mr Mirazchiev said his discontent with the committee comes because successful events have been completely cut off, whereas the three projects by “One” Group – The Week of Design, The Week of Architecture and The Week of Contemporary Dance, have again been approved “not because of their quality and success, but only because they are supported by Stefan Stoyanov”, assistant – mayor of Culture and chair of the” Plovdiv 2019” foundation. Mirazchiev also explained that Stoyanov is trying to “politicize our culture” and that is why he wants his resignation and has the support of many artists and members of the public.

It is obvious that the Cultural Capital of Europe title has brought Plovdiv back to life and the money the prize comes with is being invested in culture the best way possible. The initiative has already proven to unite people across Europe through culture. As to disagreements and conflicts between ourselves – the locals, the artists and the council – we need to let this great opportunity bring to life the bond we share as a nation first. And then, hopefully, it will reunite us with the rest of Europe.

 

When life doesn’t give you an opportunity, create one (or many)

possible-953169_960_720A girl. Poor family. Limitations. Then, a chance. A seized opportunity. Discrimination. Strength. Stubbornness.  Now, limitless.

“Unemployed Britons in Europe are drawing much more in benefits and allowances in the wealthier EU countries than their nationals are claiming in the UK, despite the British government’s arguments about migrants flocking in to the country to secure better welfare payments.”

This Guardian research also reveals that “about 2.5% of Britons in other EU countries are claiming unemployment benefits – the same level as the roughly 65,000 EU nationals claiming jobseeker’s allowance in the UK”.

Then why do immigrants from poorer EU countries, living in the UK, keep being discriminated and blamed for “stealing” social benefits when the same number of Britons are doing so in richer countries? Moreover, according to the National Office for Statistics, in 2014 three – quarters of the Bulgarians and Romanians (two of the most stigmatised states) that migrated to the UK came to the country to work, pursuing a better life, not to claim unemployment benefits.

Take this Bulgarian woman, Ralitsa Vasilovska, who lives in London since 2007after Bulgaria entered the EU for example. I meet her in the lobby of the Hilton DoubleTree hotel, where she is staying during her work – related visit to Manchester. She tells me she has just come back from a Tory conference, where the PM David Cameron gave a speech on the matters of social mobility, schools and prisons.

She is wearing a navy blue skirt – suit and tells me her suitcase is full of rather boring suits because her job requires her constantly attending conferences and formal events, meeting with MPs.

Ralitsa works in Public Affairs, which is essentially PR for politicians and councilors in her case. In a nutshell, she lobbies the government not to change the laws in such ways that are detrimental for her company’s interests. Surprisingly, she works for a well – known betting shop – William Hill. She thinks of it as a “really interesting job because betting is not one of the most popular things to talk about in politics”.

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Ralitsa at an SNP conference, 2015

Ralitsa’s journey to get to this position however started long ago when she was merely a 13 – year – old girl with a dream to visit England. She first came to London when he was 15 through an exchange program and spent a few months in a local family. She says that this was the time when she learned most about British culture and how to get by in London.

When she decided to come to the UK to continue her Bachelor degree in Indology the same family offered her to stay with them again which she says was a great help for her and she will always be grateful. She continues: “I am not ashamed to say that I come from quite poor a family of seven children and back then it was really difficult for a foreigner to get any loans from the government to help them support themselves during their studies, apart from the tuition fees loan. I arrived with £20 in my pocket.” The lady she had previously lived with offered her a room in her house and Ralitsa started paying her a little bit for rent every week. Although she recalls: “That was after a while because it was very difficult for me to find a student job”.

Ralitsa says that throughout her experience in the UK she has never been discriminated directly. However, she recalls numerous times when she did feel discriminated: “Because of my origins, because of my name… but also at work I’ve felt discriminated in terms of getting a position as opposed to someone who was British”. Today she is the only woman in her team at work: “I think I wouldn’t be as successful as I am if I was very sensitive towards all the comments that they make or if I felt that they were being sexist all the time. So in that sense, yes, I have felt discriminated”.

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Ralitsa with her siblings and three friends at a birthday party

When asked why she decided to pursue a career in politics, Ralitsa says that in a way it all started from where she comes from: “I am the oldest of seven children –six girls and one boy, brought up mostly by our mother. Our father died when I was a teenager. We were considered to be from the poor casts of the Bulgarian society for a long time but I’ve never really felt unhappy. I just felt that my options were limited, but that kind of motivated me to find different ways to do what I wanted to do and shaped me the way I am. I think I became political because of the family I lived in.” She also says it is “tough” being the oldest of seven children: “They all kind of look up to you and you don’t really have a choice but to live by example. I always had to be the responsible one, to deliver the best results in my studies, to take care of my siblings.”

Ralitsa’s achievements, especially abroad, look all the more impressive, given her origins and childhood. She goes on to tell me about her life back in Bulgaria: “When I went to high school I’d lie to my classmates about how many children we were.  When I would talk about “my sister”, I never really said which one and how many there were exactly. It wasn’t because I was ashamed. It was because I didn’t want to deal with the aggravation of the stupid questions I would be asked: “Is my mom Catholic, because she doesn’t use condoms and contraception and that’s why we are so many kids; are we gypsies; are we Turkish because they have big families… And you know, when you are 13, honestly, this is not something you want to deal with. I’ve been asked all those questions during my childhood and at some point in high school I decided I don’t want to put up with this anymore. Back then I thought “I want people to think that I’m cool and I don’t want them to judge me because I’m from a family of seven children”. It wasn’t my choice, after all. Until today I have this aggression because of my childhood and I think that this is what keeps me going. When you are born in that situation you don’t look at it as weird because for you this is the norm.”

While her dad was still alive he was the only parent working. Her mom was taking care of the kids. Ralitsa recalls her mother’s eagerness to find different ways to get support from charity organisations since the social system in the country was quite poor.

When she tells me all this only slightly does her expression change from the wide smile she welcomed me with. She does not look sad though. She does not look self – pitying either. She looks strong. She looks proud.

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Ralitsa with three of her sisters who all currently live in London

Ralitsa tells me she is a big advocate for a bit of struggling in life because otherwise you can never learn.” No, I don’t want my siblings to suffer, but they do need to struggle a little bit for this experience will make them strong and persistent. In order to be successful, especially abroad, you need to be resilient; don’t give in to what people tell you, be very strong emotionally and mentally, try to create opportunities for yourself, not wait for them to come to your door, keep on pushing and fighting, also have an idea of what you are trying to achieve and remember why you are here. If everything is offered to you on a platter, you can never get this essential experience.”

So this is how Ralitsa Vasilovska’s life started – in a big and happy family, from a poor country with limited opportunities nonetheless, being discriminated and stigmatised for where she comes from. Until someone gave her a chance. Until someone believed in her. Until someone gave her an opportunity.

And she seized this opportunity. She did not give up and step by step she started going up the ladder of success – she started working for a betting shop, then progressed to manager, advanced her Indology studies in India, did an internship for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and is currently finishing her Masters’ Degree in Law, working closely with politicians.

She adds: “I really enjoy politics, but I don’t just like lobbying something for someone else. I like creating the policies as opposed to just pushing a policy into a situation that is good for a company or an individual. But I think my current position is a way forward for me to do something more.”

According to the Guardian, commenting their research on immigration mentioned earlier, the EU commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, Vĕra Jourová, said: “Free movement of our citizens is essential to the European union. It is a fundamental right and an asset to our union. Free movement of people – to work, live and travel in other EU countries – is at the core of having a strong single market and it benefits our economy and society. Abuse weakens free movement. Therefore, member states need to tackle abuse decisively where it happens and EU rules provide the tools to do this.”

Ralitsa Vasilovska has in the past been eligible to claim benefits in the UK, but has chosen not to do so “as a very proud Eastern-European”. She continues: “I actually think Bulgarians in particular are quite proud and we don’t like applying and taking benefits when we don’t really need them, admitting we are weak; we don’t have this mentality.”