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‘As doctors we need to listen to our patients’



When Dr Sunil Arora began prescribing medical cannabis it was because of what he learned from his patients, rather than his colleagues. He talks to Cannabis Health about the key role patients have to play in raising awareness. 

Dr Arora, a specialist in acute pain, chronic pain and cancer pain, was staunchly against the idea before he became one of the first specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis medicines in the UK.

He began to change his mind when more and more of his patients were admitting that actually, cannabis was the only thing helping to relieve their symptoms.

“My mindset was totally against it, I thought it was a drug that would lead to other drugs,” he admits.

“Whenever I saw a patient and I would give them a questionnaire and ask them if they ever used cannabis – so many were saying yes, that it was the only thing that worked.

“It got to a threshold where I thought ‘I need to find out more about this’.“

Despite researching and travelling abroad to speak to medical professionals prescribing in Canada and the US, he was initially reluctant to broach the subject with his colleagues in the UK.

“I wouldn’t admit it to anybody because I was worried about the feedback I’d get,” says Dr Arora.

“Once I’d seen enough patients to see the benefits it gave me the confidence to encourage others to learn about the endocannabinoid system.”

Dr Arora is speaking in the week that new figures have revealed huge gaps in public knowledge about cannabis medicines, despite them being legally available in the UK since 2018.

A poll carried out by the recently launched Open Cannabis public awareness campaign shows only 14 percent of the population know how to access medical cannabis and only 22 per cent know which conditions they can be used to treat.

However, two thirds of respondents (67 per cent) said they would consider using legal cannabis medicines if they had a condition that it could be prescribed for, and 69 per cent of this group also said they would be more likely to talk to their doctor if they felt more informed about the topic.

“People don’t know what to use it for because we’re not educated about it and doctors haven’t been taught,” says Dr Arora.

“Everyone knows all the bad things about cannabis, but they don’t know the good things. Our own body produces cannabinoids, it’s not something foreign and it shouldn’t be alien to doctors.

“We should be trying to understand it, to move the science forward, rather than trying to hold it back.”

Unsurprisingly, Dr Arora believes patients have a key role to play in raising awareness and educating doctors about medical cannabis.

“Often the patients know more than the doctors about cannabinoids,” he says.

“When I started prescribing cannabis it was as a result of what I heard from patients – if I had listened to what doctors had said I would never have done it.”

In an effort to better inform the public, Grow Pharma has commissioned the Open Cannabis initiative backed by a number of experts, industry leaders and medical professionals, which aims to offer a platform or information and trusted resources to help people navigate cannabis medicines in the UK.

Polling also revealed that five per cent of Brits reported self-medicating with cannabis from non-legal sources in the past year to help deal with a medical condition.

Three quarters of those self-medicating with illegal cannabis would consider using legal cannabis medicines – with 26 percent unsure. Only one percent would not consider using legal, prescribed cannabis medicines.

Amongst cannabis self-medicators, the pharmaceutical quality of products and the cost of treatment were reported as the two most important features of legal cannabis medicines.

These findings resonate with Dr Arora, he says: “What I’ve discovered during my practice is that a lot of patients are using cannabis illicitly and they’re not aware of the quality of product they’re getting or what they’re actually using.”

Medical professionals have an important role to play as doctors are considered the most knowledgeable and trustworthy sources of information about cannabis medicines by the UK public – and doctor oversight was considered the first or second most important issue by 48 per cent of people surveyed.

Dr Arora is hopeful campaigns like Open Cannabis will give patients the knowledge and confidence needed to raise the subject with their doctor.

“It’s a two way thing, doctors have to recognise it’s a medicine, but patients should tell their doctors that they are using it and have that open discussion,” he says.

“The more people that admit to using it, the more doctors will listen.”

He adds: “That’s what we’re always taught, to listen to our patients, to hear what they’re saying, take it on board and to go and find out more.

“It’s easier to find out more than it’s ever been.”

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