Home Health & Wellness UK Doctors Can Prescribe Cannabis-Based Medicines. But Patients Struggle with Access and Awareness

UK Doctors Can Prescribe Cannabis-Based Medicines. But Patients Struggle with Access and Awareness

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In November 2018, a groundbreaking change in UK healthcare history occurred. For the first time, doctors were able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines to treat a range of chronic health conditions, including chronic pain, severe IBS, sleep disorders, and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and motor neurone disease. This decision marked the legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK. Now, as we approach the fifth anniversary of legalisation, Releaf, the UK’s first all-in-one medical cannabis e-clinic, has taken a look at the industry’s progress across the past five years and what’s next to come.

The state of medical cannabis in the UK

Unfortunately, despite the legalisation of medical cannabis in 2018, not much has changed for patients in the UK. Patients suffering from chronic health conditions face significant challenges in accessing prescriptions from the NHS, and many have expressed concerns over the lack of substantial progress. 

Releaf’s most recent report sheds light on this pressing issue. It reveals that shockingly, while approximately 29.6 million people (50.2%) in the UK could potentially benefit from a medicinal cannabis prescription, only a mere 0.48% of the population have received one. The report also highlights a general lack of awareness, with 58.5% of respondents unsure of the legal status of medical cannabis in the UK, despite 83.7% acknowledging its potential to help manage various health conditions.

Mason Soiza, the founder and CEO at Releaf, states: “Since medicinal cannabis prescriptions were legalised in 2018, very few prescriptions have actually been issued. Our report reveals two factors that could be at least partially contributing to this: that people are unaware it is legally available via a prescription and that people still attach a negative stigma to it.

“But we know that beyond this, there are many more barriers stopping wide-spread access to medical cannabis in the UK, including a lack of specialist doctors and a strict regulatory landscape.

“Despite the immense potential to enhance the quality of life for patients suffering from various chronic health conditions, the low awareness and lingering misconceptions about medical cannabis have hindered its broader adoption.”

A case study: Nigel Burt

Many patients have struggled to access medical cannabis when they have needed it most, including Nigel Burt, a 46-year-old graphic designer from Guildford.

Nigel discussed with Releaf how he has faced a lifetime of challenges due to a multitude of congenital birth defects that left him with three holes in his heart, a missing kidney and tailbone, the absence of four ribs, and no sphincter muscle in his back passage. Numerous surgeries and dealing with the daily struggles to manage the side effects of his unique medical condition left him with low confidence and afraid to leave the house.

“Thanks to my bowel issues, one of the most horrific things I had to endure was regularly carrying a month’s supply of nappies into his nurse’s room at school. This was at age 11, but I still had the nickname ‘nappy rash’ late into secondary school.” Nigel says.

After spending much of his free time extensively researching different ways to seek relief and improve his quality of life, Nigel discovered that cannabis could effectively alleviate some of the most debilitating aspects of his condition. Nigel reported that when he consumed cannabis, his metabolism slowed down, cramps disappeared, and his gastrointestinal discomfort eased within minutes, and this kind of relief is well documented as a response from cannabinoid use. For him, cannabis meant the ability to leave his house with confidence and trust his digestive system, rather than constantly fearing any accidents.

But obtaining and affording this medicinal relief presented challenges for Nigel. The cost and the inconsistent supply of his medicine in his rural village exacerbated the struggles he faced. Nigel shared that there were times, sometimes spanning weeks, when he had no access to the relief he so desperately needed, which took a toll on his well-being and mental health.

“It was a bit of a lottery; it was massively expensive, and you didn’t know exactly what you were getting or what else had gone into it. “You’re taking a risk, not just with the cannabis; there is also always a risk you could be arrested.”

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