The first findings from the UK’s largest medical cannabis patient study show quality of life improved by more than 50 percent.
Preliminary results from Drug Science’s Project Twenty21 study, have found medical cannabis significantly improves quality of life for people with life-limiting conditions such as chronic pain, multiple sclerosis (MS) Tourette’s syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Published on Tuesday 11 May, the report is the first real-world data to be collected on medical cannabis in the UK.
Launched in 2019, Project Twenty 21 has now licensed prescriptions of medical cannabis to over 900 patients, who have been unable to manage their conditions with commonly prescribed medicines.
Their progress has been assessed using the established methodology that is used to study the wellbeing of patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia and numerous other conditions.
Results show a 51 percent increase in patients’ self-reported health and ability to lead a more normal life, as well as significant improvements in managing debilitating secondary conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Every patient enrolled had at least two ‘failed treatments’ on their medical records – where commonly prescribed medications, such as opioids, had little to no effect on their ability to manage their conditions.
Sixty four percent of patients involved in the study were male, 35 percent female and one individual identified as non binary, with an average age of 39.9 years.
The vast majority of patients (56 percent) reported chronic pain as their primary condition.
By 13 March 2021, a total of 75 individuals had completed both an initial and three-month follow up appointment, indicating the life-improving effect of prescribed medical cannabis on improved health.
Dr Anne Schlag, head of research at Drug Science, the organisation behind the project and an honorary fellow at Imperial College London, said: “Our patient population comprises a huge age range, who often have multiple health problems. The low quality of life that they experience demonstrates just how unwell many of them are.
“Stereotypes of medicinal cannabis users as being young, healthy recreational users looking for a legal source could not be further from the truth.”
Speaking to Cannabis Health she said that the treatment of patient’s secondary conditions was “essential” when considering their overall quality of life.
“The majority of patients have secondary conditions, some even as many as up to 10,” said Dr Schlag.
“With this high number of multi-morbidity, many of these patients would have been excluded from formal, randomised controlled trials, highlighting the importance of a real-world evidence database, such as Twenty21.”
Almost two thirds (63 percent) of patients in the study had previously turned to illegal cannabis use in an attempt to treat their conditions, but have been able to avoid criminality thanks to a legal prescription.
According to researchers, prescriptions also provide an opportunity to reduce and stop reliance on widely available medicines which can come with serious side effects, including dependency.
The report follows guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) published in April 2021, which stated, ‘there is little or no evidence that [commonly prescribed drugs, such as benzodiazepines or opioids] make any difference to people’s quality of life, pain or psychological distress, but they can cause harm, including possible addiction’.
Drug Science experts have previously called for NICE and other regulatory bodies to reconsider their guidance on medical cannabis and give patients another viable option.
Dr Schlag told Cannabis Health that the impact of medical cannabis on opioid use would be analysed in a future report.
“In the current paper, we can see that the majority of patients are using medical cannabis to treat pain but not – yet – whether this led to opioid sparing,” she added.
Through project Project Twenty21, Drug Science is aiming to build the UK’s largest body of evidence for the effectiveness of medical cannabis, in the hope that the findings will lead to NHS funding where the benefits of treatment outweigh the potential risks.
Founder of Drug Science, Professor David Nutt, commented: “A lack of clinical evidence has made it difficult for doctors to confidently prescribe legal medical cannabis in the UK. These new findings provide a major step forward, and help to clarify the benefit these medicines can have for thousands of seriously ill patients.”
The scheme subsidises prescriptions for eligible patients to access affordable treatment through a number of UK clinics.
Eric Bystrom, CEO of Cellen, one Project Twenty21’s prescribing clinics said the findings were “significant” in furthering the understanding of medical cannabis, he added: “To date, much of the narrative in the UK has been centred around the perceived lack of data and evidence. For the first time, we now have meaningful data and research from the UK.
“This is significant because it starts to equip clinicians with data and furthers the education and understanding of medical cannabis in the UK”
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