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UK patients failed by medical cannabis policy

The UK government unfairly raised the hopes of thousands in the UK when medical cannabis was legalised in November 2018, a Health and Social Care Committee public inquiry has found.

Many people believed the legalisation would benefit several conditions and thousands of patients. However, multiple sclerosis medicine Sativex remains the only medical cannabis treatment available to NHS patients.

Sativex is rarely prescribed and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence deemed it to not to be cost-effective.

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said:

“Although the recent changes to government policy were welcomed, there was a failure to communicate what this would mean in practice for the availability of medicinal cannabis.

“Expectations were unfairly raised that these products would become widely and readily available, and there needs to be far clearer communication that this is not the case.”

The inquiry urged the NHS to be transparent with the public about the prescribing strategies and called on the government to support further research into CBD and medical cannabis.

The report stated:

“The Home Office, Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England should consult relevant patient and professional organisations and form a communications plan to relay clear information to patients about the availability of CBPM’s [ cannabis-based product for medicinal use in humans ] and the need for further research.”

The enquiry called for further education for specialists with the power to prescribe medical cannabis products but was positive about the e-learning modules currently being developed by Health Education England.

Professor Mike Barnes, who provided evidence for the Drug Policy Reform, said:

“The main barrier, to be honest, is education. There are bureaucratic barriers, but I think they can be overcome.

“I think most doctors do not want to prescribe because they do not understand the nature of cannabis.

“They do not understand what does to give, or what format to give it. We can overcome that with an educational programme; there are one or two around at the moment.”

The inquiry emphasised this point.

“NHS England should issue targeted guidance to practitioners and pharmacists explaining the procedure for prescribing and supplying cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans.”

Photo by Kimzy Nanney on Unsplash

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