Medical Cannabis - A green miracle?
It's been over a year since the UK legalized medical cannabis but you'd be forgiven for forgetting it ever happened. As of February 2020, a grand total of 18 NHS prescriptions of medical cannabis had been issued..
Our previous Home Secretary Sajid Javid introduced legislation that made it possible for people to legally get cannabis for medical reasons. And at the time, many people said it was an 'absolute landmark victory'. I personally know loads of scientists and researchers who absolutely welcomed the change.
People in the UK who had been self-medicating with cannabis for years expected the new law to finally make their lives easier.
But almost two years on only a handful have actually received the prescription. And those who did, haven't always been able to access it due to problems with getting their specialists to understand that cannabis is the right option - not to mention getting licenses for cannabis-based products and being able to transport them when they're in the UK.
But really, the problem isn't actually the law, the guidelines were written quickly.
The law doesn't say which products can be prescribed just that they can't be smoked, but experts are used to having loads of data when they're making the new guidelines.
The main problem is that cannabis until pretty recently, was labelled as a CLASS C drug with no medical value.
Which is what has made it really difficult for researchers to look into experiments on its properties.
The range of ingredients in cannabis can also make studying it quite tricky, as some parts may react differently in another dosage, or even just if it's grown in a slightly different way.
Essentially scientists don't really trust the data. This means that most people, except those individual children who got the licenses, are being forced to turn to illegal and often unsafe forms of cannabis to treat their symptoms.
It's no secret that I worked as a Biomedical Scientist in a large hospital in the UK, and whilst I was there they put out a statement on their twitter about cannabis.
It essentially said 'pain consultants and allied staff will not be recommending or prescribing medical cannabis for chronic pain patients."
A spokesperson for the same hospital confirmed that the image was genuine, and said, "We follow national guidance from NICE (The national institute for health and care excellence) and NHS England to support good clinical practice and effective prescribing."
Personally, I think a review of the science needs to be taken up again.
The strongest evidence for its use is in childhood epilepsy, and limited evidence related to palliative care, MS, chronic pain, and addressing the symptoms of chemo patients. But right now, easing your symptoms with medical cannabis seems to be a last resort, an "only if the other pills don't work". Those pills lined up before your medical cannabis could help, but equally, they could be devastating.
And if you're still not sure about whether or not to get behind medical cannabis, then take a read of Charlotte Figi's story.
Who was Charlotte Figi? Charlotte was a pretty well known medical marijuana story in the medical cannabis world. She was three years old when she had her first seizure. Her seizures increased in both intensity and frequency as she got older. Her doctors diagnosed Charlotte with Dravet's syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. She was only give years old and suffering roughly 300 seizures a week. Her body was so badly affected that her parents and doctors put her into a medically induced coma. With no options left, her family turned to medical cannabis. The results were life changing and she suffered no seizures her first week of trying the cannabis oil. The family worked with a specialist to supply them with a strain that had no psychoactive effects (It's high in CBD and low in THC hemp) It worked so well, for her and others that the name of the strain was changed to Charlottes Web in honour of her.
Her story, among so many others, has been inspiring people around the world and is often seen as the driving force behind why many states in the US (as well as countries like Australia and Canada) have changed their opinions towards medical cannabis.
The NICE guidelines in the UK say evidence of the benefit of medical cannabis doesn't exist.
But again, I challenge you to google patients who are proving this wrong, daily.
(PSA: It's not a challenge. It's easy. There are thousands.)
I don't believe that families should have to go between hospital trusts to see which will provide them with medical cannabis. They shouldn't have to privately buy the medication which can be costly. Our government should be helping poorly children who need medical cannabis to keep well and stay out of hospital. But to me, it seems that hospital trusts are looking at each other to see who will blink first.
I'm very much in favour that the little green plant really is a medical miracle with huge potential if only we could clear our medical cannabis blockade.
UPDATE: Since writing this article the government has promised faster access to cannabis medicines in the UK for patients. Changes to importing restrictions mean UK companies can now order and hold more stocks from abroad. That should make the treatments available to patients in weeks rather than months. Although this is a tremendous step forward, there is still a long way to go to improving access.