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Which conditions can I get a medical cannabis prescription for?

Cannabis is now prescribed for a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. 

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Cannabis is now prescribed for a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. 

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK since 2018 and is now prescribed for a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. 

Medical cannabis was legalised in 2018 and despite a relatively slow start, there are now upwards of 10,000 patients with around 17 private clinics prescribing in the UK and on the islands of Jersey and Guernsey.

While many people associate cannabis with the high profile cases of children with intractable epilepsy, it is actually more often prescribed for chronic pain and psychiatric conditions.

Fibromyalgia: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clinic

According to data from Drug Science’s observational study, Project Twenty21, out of more than 2,000 patients 50 per cent are prescribed cannabis for pain, closely followed by anxiety (31 per cent).

But the list of conditions, which you may be able to access a prescription for is actually much more extensive. In part one of two, we explore some of those here.

Cancer

Cancer-related pain

While research is still ongoing into whether cannabis may help treat the cancer itself, it can certainly provide some relief for the symptoms. Chronic pain affects up to half of cancer patients during their treatment and a medical cannabis prescription could help to manage it without or alongside opioids.

Palliative care

Many patients report experiencing ‘brain fog’, extreme fatigue or nausea during end-of-life care and may also struggle with anxiety or depression.

Cannabis may be a preferable option to opioids to manage pain, as it won’t prevent them from interacting with their loved ones or engaging in activities they enjoy.

Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting

Many cancer patients undergo chemotherapy and while it can be life-saving the side-effects are not pleasant. Medical cannabis patients find that THC helps reduce nausea and vomiting and may help them maintain an appetite.  

Gastrointestinal conditions

Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis 

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which cause the body’s immune system to attack itself. UC only affects the colon, but Crohn’s can occur anywhere in the digestive tract. 

Cannabis may be particularly helpful for those suffering with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, as it helps to reduce inflammation and manage pain, while also improving appetite.

Pain

Arthritis 

Arthritis, an inflammation and pain in the joints, affects around 10 million people in the UK. Although there is no cure, cannabis medicines can both help control inflammation and rebalance the body’s endocannabinoid system to regulate its immune response. Patients report that cannabis helps ease the tension and rigidness of the joints and dials down the pain. 

​​Ehlers-Danlos syndromes

Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) is a group of rare inherited conditions that affect connective tissue which supports the skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs and bones.

As well as helping patients manage the pain of living with this condition, cannabis may help other symptoms such as gastroenterological, digestive and gynaecological issues. Taking cannabis medicines can be extremely helpful for some EDS sufferers and can lead in some cases to a marked positive improvement in quality of life.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes and even other organs. The main symptoms of endometriosis are abdominal pain, pain during or after sex, pain when peeing or passing a bowel movement during your period, feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your pee during your period.

Cannabis may help with many of these, with patients reporting that women said that along with reducing pain, they felt that cannabis significantly reduced symptoms of nausea and vomiting, gastrointestinal symptoms, problems with their sleep, feelings of depression and anxiety.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.  The potentially debilitating effects can include headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), brain fog, muscle stiffness, extreme fatigue, increased and acute sensitivity to pain and difficulty sleeping, amongst many others. 

Medical cannabis can help manage pain, as well as improving sleep so the patient experiences less brain fog and fatigue the next day. 

Migraine

A migraine is categorised as a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head. It is generally accompanied with symptoms such as feeling sick, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. Cannabis medicines have been found by certain patients to be incredibly helpful in the management of pain.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.

The cannabis-based drug Sativex, is prescribed on the NHS for pain and spasticity associated with MS, although many more patients who could benefit from it have not been able to access a prescription according to the MS Society. 

Neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain is often described as a shooting or burning pain and is usually caused by damage or dysfunction in one or more nerves. According to a study by Drug Science, cannabis was found to be safer and to have more benefits for patients than 12 of the most commonly prescribed drugs.

Next week, we’ll explore the psychiatric, neurological and neurodivergent conditions which could be helped by cannabis, including: Epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, Tourette’s syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.

Always speak to your doctor before making any changes to your medical care. This is not an exhaustive list, and each clinic should have more details about the conditions they treat on the website. 

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