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Student campaign aims to “End the Stigma” around medical cannabis this Freshers Week

A new campaign from Drug Science aims to engage and educate students about medical cannabis

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Student: Three students sit around a desk writing with pens on paper

Research and policy charity, Drug Science has partnered with student ambassadors to end the stigma of medical cannabis and improve access.

Across the UK, students starting or returning to university this year will have their first ‘in person’ Freshers Week this September. It can be an exciting time but also one that raises questions about coping with different conditions or pain and affording medications while on student budgets. 

Many patients remain unaware that cannabis is available as a legal treatment option. Only a handful of prescriptions have been issued on the NHS despite legalisation three years ago. This has forced a lot of patients to seek expensive cannabis treatment through the private healthcare system. 

Project Twenty21 aims to improve access to medical cannabis for patients in the UK by working with licensed cannabis producers and capping the cost of monthly private prescriptions. Patients enrolled in Twenty21 help Drug Science to collect data on the effectiveness of these medical cannabis products. 

Drug Science aims to educate young people about the truths around this drug, highlighting the major differences between illegal street cannabis and legal medical cannabis in the UK.

Student campaign

As part of the campaign, some clinics have agreed to offer UK students with a valid student ID, a £20 discount on their initial consultation. Participating clinics can be found via the project’s Clinic Directory.

Medical cannabis patient Tim is about to start university in September to study Sociology. He credits medical cannabis in helping him get motivated to start. He uses medical cannabis to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), anxiety, depression and Autism.

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Student campaign: A man with dark hair and a beard wearing a white t-shirt sits in a doorway looking up at the camera

Speaking with Cannabis Health News, Tim explains how medical cannabis changed his life.

“About a year ago I was housebound with social phobia. I hadn’t left the house in a number of years. A few months after I got my prescription, I started leaving the house again and now I’m starting university so it’s completely changed my entire world.”

“Life was non-existent before medical cannabis. I would have my food delivered and I would be sat inside, scared of my own shadow. I was housebound for about two or three years. I would mainly watch TV and I was unable to take care of my daughter.”

Tim feels that the stigma of cannabis is a widespread issue however he feels supported within the student community.

“It’s a stigma amongst everybody, even within the actual cannabis community. There is still a stigma, especially in this country. I don’t know if it’s stigma more than lack of education.”

“I live in Liverpool and everyone is quite supportive here. Everyone I have spoken to has either been interested or wants to know more or they are at their wit’s end. Sometimes they know someone who is at their wits ends with the NHS and the lack of support. They want to see if it can possibly help.”

Financial difficulties

Budgeting and financial issues are part of student life however this becomes a lot more difficult when you are having to factor medication into the mix. Tim explains that Twenty21 has been incredibly helpful in making sure he can afford to stay on track.

“Without Twenty21, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I struggle with disability so money is limited. I have a set amount of money that I can spend on my medication every single month because. There are only a certain amount of products and prescriptions can change regularly.`’

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Student attitudes to cannabis

The campaign will help to raise awareness amongst students about the benefits along with the differences between street and legal cannabis.

A survey on ‘Student Drug Behaviour and Mental Health during COVID-19’ by the SSDP UK and Drug Science Student Society) asked students why they might use drugs illegally.

The survey revealed that 46 percent of students said it helps them to relieve depressive symptoms and a number said it helped them to deal with anxiety.

A YouGov poll from 2020 found that two-thirds of people aged 18 to 24 would support full legalisation of Cannabis in the UK and more than half of the population as a whole. 

Gen-Z who make a large percentage of university students are considerably open to drug policy reform. In another YouGov survey, 36 percent said they felt regular use of cannabis was not very harmful. 

Mags Houston, Head of Project Twenty21 said: “We’re not even three years into the legalisation of medical cannabis, so it’s unsurprising that the vast majority of cannabis use for medicinal purposes is still via the illicit market. We need people to know that cannabis is now a legal medicine in the UK, that the beneficial evidence is growing and we’re trying to make medical cannabis more affordable for those who need it most.”

“Students and young people can play a key role in helping us get the word out there by talking to friends and family, putting posters up around their university campuses and ensuring that any healthcare student peers, in particular, are aware of the latest research.”

If you would like to take part, you can fill out this form to order printed materials (before or after Freshers Week) or print your own posters and leaflets via this Google Drive link which includes sharable social media assets. 

 

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Read more: ‘Her life was transformed: New article shares the benefits of medical cannabis

Advocacy

Medical Cannabis Awareness Week returns with call for real world evidence

Three years since the law changed supporters call for regulators to consider real world evidence

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medical cannabis flower tolerance break
Medical Cannabis Awareness Week returns from 1-7 November

Medical Cannabis Awareness Week will return to mark three years since the law changed, with a fresh call for regulators to consider real world evidence and ensure fair access for patients. 

Led by patient advocacy group, PLEA (Patient-Led Engagement for Access), Medical Cannabis Awareness Week takes place in the first week of November and brings together patients, doctors, supporters and stakeholders across the sector to raise awareness of the plea for fair access to medical cannabis.

Medical Cannabis Awareness Week logo

On 1 November 2018, medical cannabis was made available on prescription in the UK. Three years on, only three prescriptions have been issued by the NHS.

Out of desperation, patients are now funding private prescriptions and up to 1.4 million patients are forced to turn to illegal methods. 

Patients unable to afford and access treatment are suffering due to the fear, stigma and financial barriers preventing them accessing this safe, and potentially life-changing, treatment. 

The first Medical Cannabis Awareness Week to take place last year saw over 50 speakers and 1500 live attendees, with 60,000 people reached. 

This year, taking place from 1-7 November, Medical Cannabis Awareness Week 2021 aims to highlight the real need for real-world evidence in evolving access to this new treatment, calling for fair access to medical cannabis treatment on the NHS.

Patients from across the UK will be sharing their stories about the life-changing impact of medical cannabis and their difficulties in accessing a prescription.

medical cannabis patient Gillian Flood

Medical cannabis patient, Gillian Flood

Gillian Flood, member of PLEA’s Management Committee who is prescribed medical cannabis for fibromyalgia and PTSD, commented:“Life before and after cannabis medicine really is like night and day, before constant pain left me feeling hopeless and depressed, unable to function, trying all different medications, dealing with awful side effects. After, well, I feel like me again, I can enjoy a meal, go for a walk, sleep and manage my pain better while having a clear head.

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“While all this is amazing the financial cost bring a whole new anxiety around how I afford my medicine, every month I struggle to pay for it, I don’t want to go back to my life before, not now I know I don’t have to suffer so much, there is a relief available, my plea is that this medication becomes available through the NHS so no patient has to endure the pressure of trying to fund a private prescription.”

How you can get involved

There are several ways supporters can get involved, with virtual events taking place each day, aimed at patients, doctors, supporters and anyone else with an interest in medical cannabis.

Join patients, advocates and organisations to help raise awareness, address the stigma and call for change by sharing a video or audio clip or written post of your PLEA on social media using the hashtag #MCAW2021. 

Have a conversation about medical cannabis. Ask questions, and connect with medical cannabis supporters, patients, and allies via the #MCAW2021 hashtag on social media.

Help spread the word about fair access to medical cannabis treatment by writing to your MP.

Abby Hughes, chair of PLEA commented: “Having witnessed the transformation of quality of life for many patients like myself, it is hard to accept that the only access many have to medical cannabis treatment is through the private sector. Why is there enough evidence for a private pain consultant or psychiatrist to prescribe unlicensed cannabis medicines, yet the same treatment is not afforded to patients via the NHS, which was created to provide universal, comprehensive and free health care?

“With only three NHS prescriptions having been issued three years on from Sajid Javid’s promise to make medical cannabis treatment accessible, my plea for Medical Cannabis Awareness Week 2021 is that the real need for real world evidence is explored and accepted in evolving access to this new treatment.”

We’ll be sharing more details of all the events and how you can get involved in the coming days. 

For full event listings and to access resources for patients, doctors and supporters visit www.pleacommunity.org.uk/mcaw

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Advocacy

Cannabis and driving – Calls for urgent law reforms to protect patients

A new report highlights the myriad of issues facing medical cannabis users on the road. 

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Campaigners are calling for urgent reforms to driving laws

Campaigners are calling for urgent reforms to legislation around cannabis and driving as patients risk criminalisation.

A new report, published by the Seed Our Future campaign, highlights the myriad of issues facing medical cannabis users on the road. 

The group, which lobbies for the decriminalisation of cannabis, is calling for the removal of THC from Section 5 and reverted to Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA), where evidence of impairment would be required to convict.

Following an amendment to the RTA in March 2015, any driver who is stopped by the police can expect to be swabbed and if THC is identified, a blood test is enough to secure a conviction. 

This means that anyone who has consumed cannabis within the last few days – or has been subject to passive smoking – may be over the zero-THC limit and at risk of prosecution, regardless of whether there is evidence of impairment.

According to the report, the effects of THC have generally gone after two to four hours when inhaled, longer when orally ingested. And the research conducted by Seed Our Future has found no cases of any serious vehicle accidents which conclusively shows cannabis as the primary cause.

Patients facing criminalisation

Although patients who hold a legal prescription have a right to a medical defence, this is not always taken into account and those who are unable to afford one are being criminalised and having their licences removed without any evidence of driving impairment, argues the report.

In 2021 alone, Seed our Future has supported four people with legal cases in relation to cannabis driving offences. All four suffer from long-term conditions and fit the criteria for obtaining medical cannabis prescriptions, with one holding a legal prescription at the time and two accessing one shortly after arrest. 

In all cases, the subjects had taken cannabis several hours before driving and there was no evidence of any sign of driving impairment. 

According to the report, in 75 per cent of the cases, the police had “no idea” that the law had changed regarding medical cannabis in 2018.

Seed our Future claims that the inclusion of cannabis in Section 5 of the RTA was based on “political and financial  motivations” and not “conclusive road safety data”. 

The report concluded:  “The concept that a laws exists which leads to a criminal record, fines and a driving disqualification  without any evidence of the defendant being a risk to road safety, whom  with all likelihood is practicing their inalienable human right to health by utilising globally recognised essential medicine risks jeopardising the fabric and integrity of the judicial system and exposes the incompetence of the police force in being able to gather evidence sufficient to constitute criminal intent.”

Calls for standardisation

Guy Coxall, the groups founder is also asking for standardisation of labelling for medical cannabis prescriptions and health practitioner advice in regard to guidance for driving.

He has called on the Cannabis Industry Council to ensure all importers of cannabis-based products have the correct labelling, in line with UK regulations, and all practitioners provide advice to patients in line with guidance from the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society (MCCS).

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It states: “Patients, on higher THC products especially, should be warned not to drive or operate heavy machinery whilst under the influence of side effects of a cannabis product… Like any other medications that may cause impairment, do not drive or operate a vehicle if feel impaired or are unsure if you feel impaired and follow your physician’s advice.”

Coxall said:This lack of standardisation places a number of UK patients in danger of criminalisation and penalties.

“We would also like to see discussions surrounding basic educational programmes for Police Officers, CPS solicitors and Judges to update on legislative changes and provide information to reduce stigma and medical and financial discrimination against medical cannabis users/patients, as identifying ways of protecting medical cannabis users who are at present unable to afford private medical prescriptions until availability is made accessible on the NHS.”

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GMC must address “serious concerns” over BPNA guidelines on prescribing medical cannabis

An open letter has been signed by more than 30 parents and carers of children with intractable epilepsy

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Ben Griffiths, 11, who suffers from treatment-resistant epilepsy

Dozens of parents whose children rely on medical cannabis have written to the General Medical Council (GMC) outlining their concerns about the blocks to access.

More than 40 parents and carers of children who are prescribed medical cannabis to treat conditions such as intractable  epilepsy have signed an open letter to the GMC outlining a number of issues.

Earlier this week, 50 medical professionals issued a letter  from the Medical Cannabis Clinician’s Society, expressing their concerns over the British Paediatric Neurology Association (BNPA) guidelines on prescribing unlicensed cannabis medicines.

The letter, which was published in the Times,  claims that the guidelines play a part in denying medical cannabis treatment for children with epilepsy, many of whom have had their lives significantly improved it.

It includes a comment from an expert witness in a case brought to the GMC by the BPNA, reported as stating that: ‘The BPNA position that only paediatric neurologists should initiate treatment is not supported by other national guidance, and probably not in the best interests of children, as it may impede debate and research into the appropriate use of Cannabidiol (sic) in refractory epilepsy’.

In response the parents of these children say they felt moved to write directly to the GMC to express “serious concerns”.

In the letter they stress that they feel the guidance issued by the BPNA plays a significant role in preventing doctors from prescribing.

It states: “The quote from the GMC expert witness highlights that the BPNA guidance is ‘not supported by other national guidance’.

“From our knowledge of these matters, we believe that this other national guidance may well be that from NHS England, NICE and indeed, to some extent, your own.

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“If a professional medical body is producing guidance that is ‘probably not in the best interests’ of the patient cohort at issue, surely that matter should be investigated and then appropriate steps taken to ensure that the guidance in question is corrected?

GMC must address families denied access

Ben Griffiths, 11, who suffers from treatment-resistant epilepsy, and mum Joanne.

Speaking with Cannabis Health, Joanne Griffiths, mother of Ben, 11, who suffers from treatment-resistant epilepsy, said: “We felt moved, as a group of parents and carers with loved ones affected by intractable epilepsy, to write to the GMC to ask that they address what we believe to be serious concerns relating to the BPNA position on the prescription of medical cannabis following the recent article in The Times.”

Joanne added: “This is clearly extremely concerning and needs to be addressed. The almost total block on NHS prescriptions is causing untold huge emotional and financial distress to our families.”

Open letter

The parents also highlight the ‘dramatic’ benefits of medical cannabis for these children, but says that the lack of prescriptions on the NHS means parents are facing the ‘daunting and emotionally and financially draining’ burden of finding the money to fund the medication privately.

The letter states: “Without exception our loved ones have shown very significant improvements in their symptoms following the administration of medical cannabis.

“In many cases, the improvements could more accurately be described as ‘dramatic’ with children who were suffering up to hundreds of seizures a day and being rendered semi-comatose due to the effects of conventional pharmaceutical drugs being able to lead almost normal drugs.

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“However, since the law change, to the best of our knowledge, there have only been three NHS prescriptions for whole-plant extract medical cannabis for cases of paediatric epilepsy. The rest of us have had to face the daunting and emotionally and financially draining burden of having to find up to £2,000 a month to fund the medicine privately

“Raising this money is a massive challenge in normal times. During Covid, it has been impossible.”

The parents have now called on the GMC to address their concerns, stating that failure to do so may mean doctors may be “unwittingly failing” in their ethical duty to patients.

The letter is open for other parents to sign and can be accessed through the Boisterous Ben Facebook page or Twitter.

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