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Dr Christian Jessen on cannabis-based medicine – “Medics can be surprisingly slow on the uptake”

TV’s Dr Christian Jessen on how cannabis-based medicines have a role to play alongside conventional healthcare.



Dr Christian Jessen on CBD and cannabis-based medicine

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Cannabis Health cover star, TV’s Dr Christian Jessen, on how CBD and cannabis-based medicines have a role to play alongside conventional healthcare.

Dr Christian Jessen became a household name thanks to Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies. Alongside his virtual clinics, he campaigns on a range of health issues and recently partnered with leading CBD UK and cannabis products maker – BRITISH CANNABIS™, to help demystify the cannabinoid.

Here, he speaks to Cannabis Health about how CBD and cannabis-based medicines can find a place alongside conventional healthcare.

When did you first come across and become interested in CBD?

I came to it through Professor David Nutt [the founder of Drug Science] who I met filming various different TV shows. I thought his work was so interesting; he’s a leading light in the world of drug research and drug policy. I’m interested in the whole area of ‘banned substances’ as potentially valuable medicines, and the way that the law can hamper research. I don’t think the law is helpful at all when it comes to harm reduction, and it has certainly held back research..

When I was growing up I had an uncle with multiple sclerosis (MS) who used to use cannabis to help with his symptoms. This was 30 years ago or more. My family would mention it with slight embarrassment as it was somewhat taboo and certainly still very ‘druggy!’. But I remember thinking even back then that this didn’t make any logical sense to me; if it helped him, then why was it such a bad thing?

Dr Christian Jessen on cannabis-based medicine 

Would you like to see medical cannabis more accessible in the UK?

I would. When something is more accessible, we doctors have to get more knowledgeable about it, we demand more research, more patient groups form, and we all move forward. Supply and demand applies to knowledge too, as well for better quality research. At the moment we’re all going ‘hang on, where’s the where’s the chapter in the book about this?’

A lot of the worries that doctors have who may be prescribing now is that there isn’t a widely- accepted evidence base to back up their prescribing and decision making. When you think in worst case scenario terms of having to justify these decisions in a court setting, then most of us would struggle and this is naturally going to make us nervous. As with all of these things, evidence is key. I do think that a too over-zealous application of evidence-based medicine (and only evidence-based medicine) could inhibit innovation, but in general we can also see the importance of it. There’s a balance to be had.

Have you come across a lot of skeptical colleagues in your profession?

Medics can be surprisingly slow on the uptake. To give an example, on Embarrassing Bodies we started doing Skype consultations (this was around 10 years ago), and at the time I remember getting all sorts of grief from other medics who said that it was an irresponsible way to do medicine. And now of course everybody’s doing video consultations and suddenly it all seems to work fine. But it took a pandemic for us to get around to this particular idea of breaking with tradition.

We’re very nervous when something new comes along because we all think we’re going to instantly get struck off if we dare touch it. We should be cautious, of course, but I don’t think we should feel that the world is going to come crashing down around us because we’re having a go. We need to make sure that the evidence base is there and that we’re doing the right thing, but I think a lot of us feel quite unsupported in this, so I could understand the reluctance when medical cannabis was legalised. 

Dr Christian Jessen on cannabis-based medicine

Do you think cannabis has a place alongside conventional medicine?

I hope it does. I hope we stop thinking of it as something out of the norm. Salicylates from willow bark become aspirin, how long did willow bark sit on the outside of ‘medicine’, before we discovered the compounds in it that were actually helping us? The fact that we’ve discovered cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system that could potentially be influenced by medicines, either directly from medical cannabis or synthesised, suggests that as we move forward, we’ll be able to identify specific compounds helpful in treating specific conditions.

What is your experience of patients using or asking about CBD?

I work in private practice and I suspect it’s often more common to get patients looking for advice about medical cannabis and CBD in the private sector than in the NHS. People claim it helps with all sorts of things. The next stage of that is trying to advise them on how they can best use it and how to minimise any possible risks of them trying it. That’s very difficult for doctors, because there isn’t a big book of knowledge that we can go and look this up in. Research is so important, because at the moment, the anecdotes are clouding the water and making sceptical doctors even more suspicious.

Dr Christian Jessen on CBD and cannabis-based medicine

What advice do you give to your patients who come to you asking about trying CBD?

I always like my patients to do their own research. I try to encourage them to learn as much as they can, to be as informed as they can, because being informed is being empowered – and it’s good because this keeps me on my toes as well. I urge them to critically appraise the quality of the research and the quality of the sources of that research that they are getting their information from. They mustn’t just read the bits they want to read and like the sound of. It’s important we try to look into everything before we make our minds up. 

My job is as much about harm reduction as it is about disease prevention and treatment, so I talk through the risks of stopping any other medications in favour of cannabis/CBD. It’s good that I can reassure them that we know CBD is safe and unlikely to cause problems.

As a doctor, do you have any concerns about the CBD industry in the UK?

I imagine that what is most frustrating for the companies who are really doing their best, to make high quality products, and to be as transparent as possible about the results of the analyses of their products, are all the companies that aren’t. The fact that the novel food regulations have recently come in is very important. Companies like BRITISH CANNABIS, are doing this extremely well and in fact often lead the way in self-regulation for the industry.  This is going to benefit the whole industry and will improve patient confidence (and also doctor confidence!). Doctors need to feel confident and reassured in what advice they are giving, otherwise that reticence and reluctance I mentioned earlier may well be holding back help and relief for whole cohorts of patients.

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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