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Survey reveals broad spectrum of issues facing UK cannabis patients

Patients are still experiencing issues related to supply, cost, quality and stigma four years on from the law change.

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Is government finally recognising the potential of a medicinal cannabis industry?

New survey data reveals the myriad of issues facing UK patients, four years on from the legalisation of medical cannabis.

Data collected from a recent survey paints a mixed picture of the experience of medical cannabis patients in the UK.

Patient advocacy group PLEA (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) gathered responses from over 350 cannabis patients in the UK, to get a better understanding of their experiences.

Four years on from the legalisation of medical cannabis on 1 November 2018, the results show that many patients are still facing considerable barriers such as cost, supply and societal stigma. 

Who took part in the survey?

Most of those who took part in the study (56%) had a legal prescription for cannabis, while 39% classed themselves as self-medicating.

Just over half were male with most between 25-55 years of age. Over a third identified as ‘disabled, not able to work’ and 29% were in full-time employment.

The main conditions for which patients were prescribed cannabis include anxiety, ADHD, low mood, insomnia, pain (joint/muscle/nerve), PTSD, inflammation, gastric issues and OCD. 

The majority of patients were previously prescribed pharmaceuticals for their condition. Since having a prescription for cannabis, 38% were able to stop the use of pharmaceuticals entirely while 46% report using fewer.

Existing barriers 

Despite the potential benefits for their health condition, patients continue to fall victim to issues with supply, consistency and quality control when it comes to prescribed cannabis products.

Two thirds (62%) said they had experienced ‘unreasonable’ delays to their prescription and 31% had experienced quality control issues, such as receiving a damaged or contaminated product.

Over a third of patients (35%) are spending over £350 a month for their prescription, with 46% paying between £150 – £300.

This is mostly funded using their benefits (59%) or employment salary (44%) with some getting support through an access scheme, which helps to subsidise the cost.

But despite clear issues with the dispensing of products, 80% of patients said they were satisfied with their prescribing clinic, with only 20% rating the quality of service as ‘unacceptable’.

How patients are consuming cannabis 

Almost 87% of patients were already consuming cannabis before accessing a medical prescription, according to the survey.

The average amount of cannabis flower consumed per month was 39g and patients consumed an average of 28ml of oil-based products. Most patients say they consume their medication several times a day.

A minority of patients (28%) also supplement their prescription with store-bought CBD, while 38% reported supplementing it with self-sourced cannabis.

Stigma remains rife

Significant experiences of stigma towards cannabis patients from others in society, including police and employers were also reported.

Among those patients in employment, only half were permitted by their employer to consume their prescription during work hours.

Elsewhere, 10% have been stopped by the police since having their prescription, with one patient having been charged with possession and 9% had experienced problems with housing due to their chosen medication.

Meeting the needs of patients

There are now thought to be over 20,000 patients holding a legal prescription for cannabis in the UK. While this dataset represents a small sample of this cohort, many of the issues highlighted come as little surprise.

Zach Thompson, chair of PLEA, told Cannabis Health: “The UK patient survey was designed to better understand the experience patients have with cannabis-based products, as well as identifying any barriers to legal access and areas of unmet need.

“Some of these findings are disappointing, if not wholly surprising. At PLEA we regularly hear from patients who are experiencing difficulties in accessing their prescription, whether that’s due to delays or financial barriers, as well as those who have faced outright discrimination whilst going about their daily lives.”

He added: “It’s good to see that so many patients are happy with the care they receive from their clinics, but supply issues, quality control and cost continue to affect the majority of prescription holders. As we mark the fourth anniversary of the law change, we are still some way off the access which many in the UK hoped for and indeed, were promised.

“We will discuss many of these issues over the coming days as part of Medical Cannabis Awareness Week and in the coming months, we hope to use this data to ensure that patient needs are prioritised as the industry develops.”

Find out more about Medical Cannabis Awareness Week here 

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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 sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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