Cannabliss - Medical cannabis in the UK
Hemp’s healing history
For millennia, this very special plant has featured in medical and wellbeing practices all over the world. Cannabis has a long history when it comes to human healing, with ancient civilisations like the Mayans, Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians all using it as a medicine. The Romans and Vikings used it to help relieve pain, aid stomach issues and soothe burns; and it was widely used across medieval Europe for everything from headaches, to arthritis, and depression to gout. Even Queen Victoria was believed to have taken a cannabis tincture for menstrual cramps.
But in recent history, complicated regulation and prohibition has made it increasingly hard to access the healing benefits of this wonderful plant. With cannabis laws around the world rapidly changing, and increasing knowledge and understanding about how the plant interacts with our bodies, cannabis is once again starting to capture the attention of the medical community worldwide. But not without a few hurdles!
Prescribing medical cannabis
Accessing legal medicinal cannabis in the UK can be a challenge and it’s difficult to know where to begin on your journey. Although cannabis-based medicines have been available since the law changed in 2018, eligibility requirements are tightly controlled. Therefore patients need to have a medical condition that qualifies for medical cannabis, and have tried two or more other prescription medications or treatments before attempting to access a private prescription of legal medicinal cannabis.
If you are eligible, the next step to obtaining a prescription is to find a private clinic, but variation between providers can make access more challenging to understand. There are clinic directories and programmes through organisations like PLEA and Drug Science’s Project Twenty 21, and these also provide some information about which medical conditions are supported by which clinics (some providers don’t prescribe medical cannabis for all conditions so you’ll need to check for your specific medical needs). There are also active medical cannabis communities online through organisations like End Our Pain, and on sites like Reddit where information, resources and personal experiences are shared.
But one of the biggest obstacles in accessing medical cannabis is the price. The private clinics that prescribe legal cannabis are expensive, and this high premium may put medical cannabis out of reach for the average patient. It’s not just the prescription cost to consider but also private consultation fees for appointments need to be factored in.
Getting a prescription
Once you’ve found the right private medical cannabis clinic for your needs, and provided a copy of your medical records from your GP, you’ll have a consultation appointment where you’ll be assessed on your current experience using prescribed treatments. It’s also common to be asked about any previous cannabis use. The clinic then makes their decision based on your suitability, and they may include an additional multi-disciplinary team in their decision-making process.
It’s important for you to feel empowered asking questions when speaking to medical cannabis teams. The clinic will provide information, but it’s advisable to do as much research as you can beforehand so you are prepared and can get all the details you need to help make the right choice. And if you are concerned about cannabis stigma or judgement, you can always ask that anything discussed with the clinic is not included in your clinical records - you’re entitled to do this.
After your appointment, your consultant will then confirm whether medical cannabis can be prescribed, and a specialist pharmacy will fulfil your prescription. There’ll usually be follow up consultations to talk about your experiences and discuss any changes that need to be made to your dosage.
Cannabis as medicine
Cannabis has been used as a medicine for millennia, but the current complex legal classification can get in the way of clinical research. Stigma from the vast amounts of misinformation still influences opinion, although recent opinion polls suggest almost two thirds of the UK public are in support of legalising cannabis.
So is there a difference between illegal cannabis and private prescription medicinal cannabis? Many people believe that any cannabis product which is used for a well-being purpose is medicinal. Legal medicinal cannabis in the UK is usually grown in GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) facilities and undergoes regular testing and standardisation to ensure consistency. There is often some sterilisation to ensure no microbes such as e-coli and salmonella are present, and interestingly this can lower the product quality in terms of terpene and cannabinoid profiles due to the extensive processing.
Conditions for cannabis
Cannabis is known to help alleviate symptoms of many physical and mental health conditions including epilepsy, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s, cancer-related pain and appetite loss, chronic pain and sleep disorders, to name a few. Some of the main conditions our customers ask us about are multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, autoimmune conditions and chronic pain:
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
One in five people with MS have used cannabis medicinally to help with their symptoms, claiming that the plant helps to relieve muscle spasms or stiffness and pain. One MS patient stated that using cannabis made a noticeable difference to symptoms, and on the days where cannabis wasn’t used, the pain and spasms from the MS were a lot worse. Studies on a cannabidiol oral spray for MS found that spasticity-related symptoms such as pain, spasms, fatigue and bladder dysfunction, were significantly improved, with no severe adverse reactions to the medicine.
The first person to receive a medical cannabis licence in June 2018 was a child with a severe form of epilepsy. Alfie Dingley had tried 20 combinations of epilepsy drugs, along with steroid treatment without success, until his family went to Holland to try medical cannabis treatment in 2017, which had a miraculous effect in stopping his seizures and improving his quality of life. Other patients using cannabis medicinally have reported reduced seizure activity as well as other beneficial effects. Studies have highlighted the effectiveness of cannabis based medicinal products in treating severe forms of epilepsy, although more research is needed.
An area of medicine still largely misunderstood, autoimmune conditions affect various parts of the body. There are presently more than 80 registered autoimmune disorders - including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease - and many more conditions may turn out to be autoimmune related. Nowadays, lots of patients look to holistic treatments like cannabis instead of immunosuppressive medications which can have unfavourable side effects. Cannabinoid therapies have been shown to decrease inflammation, modulate the immune system, and help to bring the system back to balance.
Some patients with chronic pain benefit from medical cannabis in ways they have not benefited from any other pain interventions. Chronic pain can be caused by bone, muscle, joint, nerve or organ issues, or from cancer and other medical treatments. It can also come from a chronic illness like fibromyalgia. Many patients have found relief from using cannabis. Evidence from clinical trials shows some therapeutic benefits of cannabis, including THC delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and other cannabinoids in reducing the intensity of neuropathic pain in various different conditions.
A future of medical cannabis
While medical cannabis is only in its infancy in the UK, other nations around the world have a more progressive cannabis policy, and many have started incorporating it into their healthcare systems. In the past decade, many countries have legalised or decriminalised cannabis, including Uruguay, The Netherlands and Spain. In 2018, Canada fully legalised cannabis, and the government in Germany have promised that they’ll be following suit.
A recent report by the Social Market Foundation found that the UK cannabis laws are not fit for purpose, meaning that we suffer higher crime and worse health outcomes than if we were to make cannabis laws more liberal. The author of the report, Jake Shepherd, said: “The need for cannabis policy reform is clear - public opinion on cannabis and demand for it is rapidly changing. By learning from international examples such as Uruguay’s, the UK can put in place the right policy framework to navigate the current system, the unregulated commercial market and balance key priorities of safeguarding public health, reducing criminal activity and delivering economic gain - to ultimately benefit society.”
As we look to the future of medicine, a health over profit model should be our inspiration, and there are learnings to be taken from countries like Portugal, Canada, Uruguay and some of the U.S. states including Colorado and Oregon where the legal market has grown rapidly.
With today’s scientific understanding, we can see how the many different compounds in cannabis work with the body’s own endocannabinoid system to reduce inflammation, relieve discomfort, stimulate appetite and boost mood. The cannabis hemp sativa plant has always been close to our hearts at Graces London, and we would love for it to be legalised and regulated in the right way. We’ve long championed the health benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) plant extracts and harnessed the beauty and wellness benefits of hempseed in some of our product ingredients. And using the whole plant can unlock so much more healing and wellness potential. It really is nature’s gift that keeps giving. And giving. And giving…
Sarah Green - Cannabliss Content Creator
The Graces London Team
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