EVERY family knows someone like this, often in their advanced years: the person in chronic, maddening, oppressive pain.

You come upon them of a morning, when you cheekily bound through the door on your surprise visit. And she’s at her chair, beloved head in hands, moaning low and long. “Never mind me...

you must be fed-up seeing me like this... but this bloody, thumping, never-ending pain...”

You’d do anything to help them (though often simple conversation can be the thing that pulls them part-way up the tunnel of their agony). Would you do something illegal? If it could stand between your friend or relative, and the relentless hammering away at their nerve endings. No hesitation. Whatever it takes.

I sense there are many thousands of stories like this in Scotland.

You could feel them driving the cordial and caring exchange between Labour’s Pauline McNeill and Nicola Sturgeon in the Holyrood Parliament this week.

Setting out the context – that there are 800,000 arthritis sufferers in Scotland, and the fact that muscular and skeletal conditions are the biggest factors in keeping people from work – McNeill asked the FM if she could commit to investigating the possibility of the medical use of cannabis in Scotland.

Cannabinoids are now elements in approved medicines across Germany, Canada and 24 states in the US. They have become notable pain-relief tools in the treatment of particularly grinding conditions like osteoarthritis.

Sturgeon’s response was no surprise – she’s stated her support in the past, and a recent SNP conference voted it as party policy – but she clarified the Scottish Government’s agency here.

“I don’t hold all the levers here,” she said (the classification of drugs is a reserved matter), “but in terms of medicines, the independent Scottish Medicines Consortium has a process of approval, and any manufacturer can submit its products to that”.

After 40-odd minutes of electoral tub-thumping and aspersions cast about health and care records, this was a humane and welcome moment. But when you begin to journey beyond the headlines, and into the world of cannabis advocacy – medicinal or otherwise – you are in a zone where knowledges (both scientific and amateur) compete in an often bewildering way.

There may need to be a lot more focus, if consortia (and first ministers) are to get over fully their “reefer anxiety”.

A solid place to begin would be with biology and neurology, which tell us how crucial cannabinoids are to the flourishing of mammals, let alone humans. The endocannabinoid system or ECS (“endo” meaning that the chemical is produced by the body itself) helps to regulate a startling range of functions.

This is not just mood, pleasure and reward – which generates the famous “highs” – but also sleep, appetite/digestion/hunger, motor control, immune function, reproduction and fertility, memory, temperature regulation ... and of course pain.

So diversely is the endocannabinoid system threaded throughout us that medical research is beginning to regard it as a crucial means whereby our bodies achieve balance (or “homeostasis”) across their various functions and flows.

So, at the very least, cannabinoids are deeply constitutive of us, and thus worthy of open study and enquiry. Medical cannabis evangelists, such as the US writer Lex Pelger, write research-studded articles on its health benefits. Their variety seems to match the bodily pervasiveness of the ECS itself.

One Pelger blog is starkly entitled The War On Weed Is A War On The Elderly. With a US Government research paper behind almost every link, Pelger shows how cannabis “helps with so many basic problems of ageing: it lowers inflammation across the body, lessening aches, migraines and arthritis.

“By itself, it’s helpful against pain and enhances the other painkillers, so a patient needs fewer addictive opiates with just a few puffs of pot. It eases nausea from chemotherapy, treats sleep apnea, raises bone density for osteoporosis ... it prevents heart attacks and lessens the neurotoxicity of strokes if applied immediately (the federal Department of Health and Human Services even has a patent for this cannabinoid neuroprotection).” Pelger continues: “For as yet unknown reasons, cannabis works especially well for movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and the self-attacking autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease ... our brain overflows with cannabinoid receptors that protect against MS, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.”

I invite medical readers to find the piece and inspect Pelger’s research. There is a certain amount of patience with the counter-culture required. This article appears in an online mag named Love Bud (its slogan: “Classin’ Up The Joint”). But there is little that is carefree or hedonistic in these “pro-am” cannabinoid experts. Many of the articles are cautious to a point about initial usage levels and continuing doses, and extremely eager to engage with medical assessment.

The front line of medicinal cannabis advocacy in the US is a challenge to what has been called an “opioid epidemic”. This refers to the alarmingly increasing numbers of people becoming addicted to painkillers based on opiates, which can become a pathway to a more direct use of heroin and related substances. Last year, Prince Rogers Nelson died of an overdose of Fentanyl, which the New Scientist describes as “a painkilling prescription drug approximately 80 times more potent than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin”.

The disaster of opiates is that their pain-relieving qualities tail off relatively quickly, and thus the patient’s appetite for them increases. Yet if they try to reduce their intake, the harsh withdrawal symptoms begin to compete with the chronic pain itself. Some 20,000 people died in the US in 2015 from overdosing on opioid painkillers.

Faced with this crisis – and again I invite comments on the UK context – it might seems like the most public-spirited and responsible act to subject medical cannabis claims to rigorous examination, without delay. But the street (and its communities) have already acted.

I have made my own enquiries, and it’s not hard to stumble across ad-hoc distribution networks that exist to bring cannabinoid pain relief to the needy. One contact told me of his own experience of “young terminal cancer patients who used it for pain relief ... there are unknown charities that illegally get cannabis oil for patients and doctors.

The police turn a blind eye to it”.

If cannabinoids (synthetic or internal/natural) have these powers, we may have to try to shatter one of the lasting institutional prejudices surrounding pain-relieving substances. Namely, that the claim of feeling pain is a kind of weakness, or ruse, whereby somebody can access more substances of transporting bliss than they should be accessing.

The historian Joanne Bourke’s The Story Of Pain tells us of recent surveys that show how surprisingly under-prescribed all forms of pain relief are. One of Bourke’s explanations is that we have a lingering religious sense that pain is godly – something that demonstrates our piety.

When you use morphine, alcohol or cannabinoids, you are evading some salvific, character-forging struggle.

If so, let’s be done with that Puritan hangover. Cannabis culture itself is often self-described as being – and indeed accused of being – a deliberate pursuit of non-achievement; about life slowing down to a crawl, then dissolving into giggles and munchies. But what if medical science comes and tells us that this is precisely the function of the cannabinoid systems in our minds and bodies – to help us achieve a healthy balance and equilibrium in a stress-inducing and challenging environment?

The pursuit of this knowledge, compared to many others a lot less humane, seems eminently worth it. Especially with the loved one before you, storms of pain roiling under and breaking through her familiar features, seeking a road out of her morning’s fresh hell.