Health and wellbeing

When it comes to good health most people would agree that prevention is better than cure. And there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that we could improve mental and physical health simply by adapting public spaces to incorporate more trees, living roofs and walls to absorb pollution while giving citizens greater opportunities to connect with a natural environment. At the same time, there is an opportunity to pioneer a natural healthcare industry by investing in further research regarding hemp derived CBD and a plethora of locally producible herbal treatments.

The problem

The Healthy Air Campaign estimates that 29,000 premature deaths are caused by poor air quality in the UK each year. For people affected, air pollution reduces life expectancy by an average of over eleven years. Birmingham is breaking EU law with its current air pollution levels, since it is not expected to comply with legal limits for air quality until at least 2025.

Pollution from road traffic, and particularly diesel fumes, is the most significant cause of poor air quality, and can be responsible for up to 70% of air pollution. This emphasises the problem of traffic levels in the city while supporting a long term investment in cycling and greener public transport. It also calls for innovation in the design of buildings and city infrastructure to bring down pollution levels in the short term.

But it isn’t just air pollution creating a health timebomb in Birmingham. In our busy, modern city many citizens’ health suffers at the hands of stress, obesity, diabetes, cancers and high blood pressure. Drugs to treat these ailments are often expensive while drug-resistance and side effects are increasingly common. Too much deference is given to a prescription oriented culture, while the herbalist’s holistic approach to illness is often given short shrift. Herbal medicines work with the body’s natural defence systems in a gentle and well tolerated way. What’s more, they can be grown for a fraction of the cost of buying conventional drugs.

Despite a wide range of scientific and clinical studies underscoring hemp’s potential as a treatment for a plethora of conditions, it is largely misunderstood in the UK while failing to receive the level of research it deserves from British academic institutions.

The solution

A simple and quick fix to pollution levels in Birmingham would be to legislate for all new (and existing where possible) buildings to be at least partially covered in plants – namely green roofs and walls. France has recently passed such legislation, showing that it can be done with the right political will.

Not only do green roofs absorb pollution from the atmosphere, there is evidence to suggest that living in an urban area with green spaces has a long-lasting positive impact on people's mental well-being. In addition, they help to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building in winter while cooling it in summer. And they help to absorb rainwater and reduce runoff.

A different study has shown that having on average 10 more trees in a city block improves how someone rates their health by a level comparable to an increase in their annual income. Trees also provide shelter, fix soil and increase biodiversity. We should be adopting a policy of tree planting initiatives while ending the madness of cutting down trees unless absolutely necessary. This could go further, with the planting of fruit trees providing a free source of healthy food for citizens.

Healthy food, made available from local forest gardens and urban permaculture projects, would undoubtedly go a long way towards improving citizens’ health in Birmingham. But there is an opportunity to lead the way in natural healthcare by investing more time and resource into understanding both herbal medicine and CBD – treatments that could be grown and manufactured right here in the West Midlands.

Medical herbalists make use of plants whose traditional uses are backed up by modern scientific research and clinical trials. A qualified medical herbalist has a BSc or equivalent in Herbal Medicine, has studied orthodox medicine as well as plant medicine, and is trained in the same diagnostic skills as a GP. However, herbalists take a holistic approach to illness, treating the underlying cause of disease rather than just the symptoms. Birmingham could lead the way in this field of healthcare with greater investment.

The Hemp Works Charity refers to scientific evidence of us all having an “endocannabinoid system” (ECS): a vitally important regulatory system that balances our major organs and our immune system. As we get older we need to ingest cannabinoids, otherwise our ECS becomes deficient and we become ill. Endocannabinoid deficiency leads to illness whether young or old.

Hemp, which is a non-psychoactive member of the cannabis family, could therefore be perceived as essential nutrition rather than simply a medicine. This is why it has been shown to help people presenting so many different illnesses to get better – to return to homeostasis.

CBD is a UK legal hemp compound that has demonstrated significant medical benefits. For instance, scientific and clinical studies have shown its potential as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, alcoholism, MS, chronic pain, schizophrenia, PTSD, antibiotic-resistant infections, epilepsy, and other neurological disorders. CBD has also demonstrated neuroprotective and neurogenic effects, and its anti-cancer properties are currently being investigated at several academic research centres around the world.

Birmingham has an opportunity to use its academic institutions to investigate CBD’s medical properties further. With the backing of sufficient scientific evidence, a whole industry could be developed from this compound – growing, manufacturing and distributing CBD oil from Birmingham. It could create jobs while providing a low cost source of medical relief to citizens; ultimately lifting the financial burden on the NHS.

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