Data shows the majority of over 55s would consider taking medical cannabis – should it be prescribed instead of conventional painkillers?
New research suggests almost three quarters of people over the age of 55 would be open to considering cannabis medication if it was offered to them – compared to two thirds of the population as a whole.
The findings came from a poll by Open Cannabis, a new campaign to educate the public and increase access to cannabis medicines in the UK.
Dr Sunil Arora, an acute pain, chronic pain and cancer pain specialist, who was one of the first UK doctors to prescribe medical cannabis, is not surprised that the older generation is more open-minded about it.
“By that stage, people have probably explored the medical options available to them fully,” he said.
“If they have tried what conventional medicine can offer and it has not proven beneficial for their conditions, they’re more likely to be in a position to explore alternatives.”
He added: “They probably can remember their parents or someone they know using cannabinoids for therapeutic value back in the day and so are a little bit more open-minded about it.”
Older members of the population are also more likely to experience health conditions and chronic pain than the younger generation.
According to the British Medical Journal, the proportion of people over the age of 75 who suffer daily with chronic pain could be as high as 60 percent.
“Pain tends to start later on in life,” continued Dr Arora.
“If you’re in your 30s or 40s, you’re probably not experiencing those conditions, so don’t need to take anything, as most people don’t in the younger age groups, whereas over 55’s tend to fit the disease profile.”
The findings come as draft guidance published last month by NICE suggests that prescription guidelines for pain patients need to move away from drugs such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and tramadol.
It has left many patients and health professionals concerned, aware that alternatives are needed, with leading doctors suggesting that medical cannabis should be prescribed for older people suffering from chronic pain, such as joint injuries and muscular dystrophy, as opposed to conventional painkillers.
Although cannabis-based medicines were legalised in the UK in 2018, they are still not widely available via the NHS and are only prescribed through private clinics prescribing if other medication has not proven effective.
Dr Steve Hajioff, a former director of the British Medical Association, said cannabis should be made available legally, via prescriptions, to prevent patients from turning to the black market when all legal, readily accessible options have failed to provide relief from their pain.
“Cannabis-derived medicines can help fill the gap in helping people with chronic pain, as we move away from some pain-management procedures, such as opioids of NSAID drugs,” he said.
“Patients who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines need to be made aware of legal routes to access these treatments in the UK, so they are not exposed to the dangers associated with the illegal market.”
Dr Arora, who has spoken of the stigma he faced in the medical industry after he began prescribing cannabis, has welcomed the fact that other clinicians are coming forward to talk about its benefits.
However, he warned, we need more studies into which specific conditions it can be used to treat effectively.
“It’s really good that doctors are coming forward and feeling able to speak about it, without getting mocked for spreading the word of what they believe is the therapeutic value of medical cannabis,” he said.
“We’re having the discussion about cannabinoids’ role within pain and I’m very open to that, but we need to be aware that cannabis can replace those medications in specific conditions, not in every condition.”
Dr Arora continued: “We really need to build some robust evidence going forward to be able to say whether it does or doesn’t work and in which conditions.
“These studies are ongoing and that will be found out over the next five or 10 years, but the UK is behind other countries which are already building evidence.”
Until we have this evidence he feels doctors are wary and unlikely to widely prescribe medical cannabis.
“There is huge potential and that evidence is coming but it is not available presently and that’s the difficulty for those doctors who don’t believe in its therapeutic value – they don’t have the evidence that it works that they would have for other medications,” he said.
However, having seen many patients using cannabis illicitly during his practice, he encouraged people to be honest and speak to their doctor if they feel they could benefit from medical cannabis.
“Stigma remains an issue – despite a wide range of cannabis medicines now being available in the UK to help manage symptoms for pain patients who have tried other options,” he added.
“If patients feel that they could benefit from cannabis medicines, they should speak to a specialist.”
A spokesman for Open Cannabis commented: “Our long term aim is to see medical cannabis available to all through the NHS, and to show the government that it is a safe, valuable and effective tool for tackling the plight of patients with chronic pain.
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