Medical cannabis in the UK: From principle to practice
Anne Katrin Schlag, David S Baldwin, Michael Barnes, Steve Bazire, Rachel Coathup, H Valerie Curran, Rupert McShane, Lawrence D Phillips, Ilina Singh, David J Nutt
In the UK, medical cannabis was approved in November 2018, leading many patients to believe that the medicine would now be available on the NHS. Yet, to date, there have been only 12 NHS prescriptions and less than 60 prescriptions in total. In marked contrast, a recent patient survey by the Centre for Medical Cannabis (Couch, 2020) found 1.4 m people are using illicit cannabis for medical problems.
Such a mismatch between demand and supply is rare in medicine. This article outlines some of the current controversies about medical cannabis that underpin this disparity, beginning by contrasting current medical evidence from research studies with patient-reported outcomes.
Although definite scientific evidence is scarce for most conditions, there is significant patient demand for access to medical cannabis. This disparity poses a challenge for prescribers, and there are many concerns of physicians when deciding if, and how, to prescribe medical cannabis which still need to be addressed. Potential solutions are outlined as to how the medical profession and regulators could respond to the strong demand from patients and families for access to medical cannabis to treat chronic illnesses when there is often a limited scientific evidence base on whether and how to use it in many of these conditions.
There is a need to maximise both clinical research and patient benefit, in a safe, cautious and ethical manner, so that those patients for whom cannabis is shown to be effective can access it. We hope our discussion and outlines for future progress offer a contribution to this process.