Medical cannabis was legalized in the UK following a long-running campaign by the parents of children suffering from severe epilepsy for which cannabis has many benefits. However, as of November 2018, only 18 patients are currently receiving cannabis on the NHS to treat their condition, forcing advocates to call on the government to make cannabis more accessible to patients in need.
Where Does the Cannabis Come From?
Dried flowers and extracts used in the UK medical market are imported from Canada and the Netherlands. However, currently, cannabis cannot be stocked in the UK and needs to be imported for each prescription, which in turn leads to higher costs per gram in order to achieve margins for the production companies. It also takes eight to ten weeks for a product to be made available to patients once the prescription has been fulfilled, meaning a large proportion of prescriptions expire before the drug can be issued.
Frustratingly, the UK is believed to be the largest producer of cannabis in the world. According to the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, in 2016 the UK produced 44% of global cannabis plants intended for medical and scientific research.
What Conditions can Medical Cannabis Treat?
- Pain conditions including inflammation, arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve conditions, muscle cramps and chronic pain management
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Spinal cord Injuries
- Palliative Care
- Psychiatric conditions including PTSD, anxiety, stress, depression and OCD.
So how do Patients Without a Prescription get Hold of Medical Cannabis?
The most accessible avenue for patients in the UK to obtain medical cannabis is in the private sector. Specialist clinics have now opened in various locations across the country, but even then, there are still only a handful of prescriptions fulfilled each year due to the eye-watering price tag.
Importing cannabis into the UK is still an illegal activity, meaning many medical users risk getting arrested for the importation of drugs which can carry fines and possible sentencing.
The Centre for Medical Cannabis has also found that 1.4 million UK users of illegal cannabis are self-medicating an undiagnosed condition.
Why is it not More Freely Available on the NHS?
The NHS is crippled by budgets. Medicinal cannabis would have to be six times less expensive or eight times more effective to be considered as a treatment for chronic pain. Then there is of course the lack of research that decades of prohibition have caused. However, with hundreds of patients still being prescribed drugs such as Fentanyl, a synthetic analgesic which is 50 times more potent than heroin, to treat their chronic pain conditions, it is time the UK consider a cannabis alternative which advocates believe is just as effective as opiates at managing severe pain conditions. After all, there are no reported deaths as a result of cannabis use, whereas opioids cause several deaths each year.
In Canada, 20,000 physicians have now prescribed cannabis to over 400,000 patients in just a few years. There is little doubt that the UK is missing out on a new industry, which is being invented in real-time and the job opportunities and tax revenue that would ensue from that.
Certainly, for the Conservative Party, a policy that appeals to young voters cuts crime and generates tax revenue has its appeal.