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Survey finds support for medical cannabis among UK health professionals

65% of respondents said they thought medical cannabis should be available on the NHS.



In a small survey of UK healthcare professionals, 65% said they thought medical cannabis should be available on the NHS.

A new survey indicates a potential shift in attitudes towards medical cannabis among UK healthcare professionals, with over half saying they think it should be available on the NHS. 

In a small survey of UK healthcare professionals, 65% said they thought medical cannabis should be available on the NHS for managing pain, underlying illnesses, PTSD, and mental health issues, when conventional treatments have failed.

The vast majority (92%) also said they would prefer patients to be open with them about their use of illegal cannabis for medicinal purposes.

An anonymous survey, conducted by UK-based medical cannabis company, Grow Pharma, was sent to over 300 healthcare professionals, including consultants, trainees, researchers, pharmacists, general practitioners, and nurses.

A total of 51 individuals responded to the questionnaire, which aimed to gain a better understanding of the concerns and considerations around medicinal cannabis among the medical community.

According to the researchers, the findings paint a picture of a medical community which is ‘willing to learn’ and ‘potentially embrace change’ in an area once regarded as ‘controversial’. 

Widespread support for prescribing medical cannabis 

Almost all (90%) of respondents were aware that unlicensed cannabis medicines were made available to prescribe in private settings in 2018, and 76% considered themselves ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ knowledgeable about medical cannabis.

When asked if they believed medical cannabis should be available on the NHS, 65% did and 73% would prescribe if this was the case, or if it was recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). 

As it stands, 18% of respondents were willing to write a private non-reimbursed prescription for unlicensed medicines within their NHS Clinic, while 34% were willing to prescribe as a private consultant but not as an NHS doctor, 22% expressed hesitancy to prescribe a private prescription while consulting as an NHS doctor, and only 26% would not prescribe.

The main concerns expressed by respondents regarding prescribing medical cannabis were lack of research/evidence (24%), unclear dosing guidelines (26%), potential for abuse/misuse (21%), legal/ethical concerns (11%), and other reasons (18%).

Lack of education, rather than stigma?

These findings are said to be ‘promising’, as they highlight that many challenges facing cannabis patients when it comes to healthcare are caused by a lack of education, rather than stigma.

Respondents expressed interest in learning more about various topics related to medical cannabis, such as the endocannabinoid system(10%), different strains and formulations(13%), potential risks and side effects(16%), legal and regulatory landscape(12%), dosing(14%), management alongside other medications(10%), managing an experienced and informed patient (9%) monitoring and assessing efficacy(13%), and other(3%) peer support networks.

“While the concerns expressed by respondents are valid, they are also a testament to a cautious yet open-minded approach,” the researchers say.

“The desire to learn more about the endocannabinoid system, dosing guidelines, potential risks and side effects, and legal and regulatory landscapes is something that the industry can address quite easily by organising educational events, webinars and Zoom meetings bringing in experienced prescribers and facilitating discussion.”

Patients encouraged to be open about cannabis use 

The survey also highlighted the importance of having open dialogue between healthcare professionals and their patients when it comes to cannabis use.

Overall, 92% of respondents would prefer their patients to inform them about using illegal cannabis for medical purposes, although it is not a question which is routinely asked. 

It’s important that patients feel able to disclose this information as cannabis can have potential contraindications with other medication and some research has shown that cannabis consumers may require more anaesthetic, or sedation, during surgery. 

Surprisingly, 80% of respondents said they had patients who had been open about using cannabis. Among these 24% actually prescribed medical cannabis and provided ongoing care, 10% referred the patient to a specialist clinic or other healthcare professional, 24% discussed the potential benefits and risks but did not prescribe themselves, and only 5% expressed not supporting medical cannabis.

Grow Pharma CEO, Pierre van Weperen.

In response to the findings, Grow Pharma CEO, Pierre van Weperen, urged GPs to routinely ask patients about their cannabis use and top help them feel comfortable disclosing this. 

“The findings of our survey are very promising, as they highlight how a lot of the problems faced by cannabis users in healthcare are caused by a lack of education, rather than a large amount of stigma. Doctors are willing to learn and want to improve the care that they provide,” he commented.

“However, education may partly be slowed as patients may not want to disclose cannabis use as they’re worried of any resultant negative effects. We think that to help this, asking if patients use cannabis should be a standard question asked by GP’s, along with reassurance that this disclosure won’t get you in trouble.”

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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 titles, Cannabis Wealth 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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