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“It enables me to make the most of the time I have left” – how cancer patient secured first NHS prescription for medical cannabis flower

The first patient to receive medical cannabis flower through the NHS has shared how it helped him manage debilitating side-effects of cancer treatment. 

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The first patient to receive medical cannabis flower through the NHS has shared how it helped him manage debilitating side-effects of cancer treatment. 

In April 2023, Mike Roberts secured the first NHS reimbursement for medical cannabis flower prescribed through a private clinic to manage chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV).

Roberts has now co-authored a case report exploring the efficacy of THC-predominant cannabis flowers in controlling CINV and potentially alleviating other cancer-related symptoms.

The report, published in the journal Cureus, is co-authored by Dr Matthew Brown and Dr Guillermo Moreno Sanz, chief scientific officer at Khiron Life Sciences, owner of Zerenia Clinic in the UK, of which Roberts was a patient at the time. 

Roberts was 42-years-old when he was diagnosed terminal cancer in 2021 and started on palliative chemotherapy treatment.

After experiencing “severe nausea and vomiting” associated with the treatment, in May 2022 he obtained his first private prescription for THC-predominant cannabis flowers for inhalation.

According to the report, later that year he approached his GP about submitting an individual funding request (IFR) to the NHS South, Central, and West Commissioning and Support Unit. This was to cover the costs of his private prescription, amounting to £388 per month for 24 months—in accordance with the prognosis given to him by his doctor.

The application is said to have been denied twice, the first time due to the panel mistakenly believing it was for the funding of Sativex, the second as he had not exhausted all other treatment options, including Nabilone, a licensed cannabis-based medicine which can be prescribed through the NHS.

After trying Nabilone with “minimal efficacy”, the report states, his GP resubmitted the IFR in March 2023 and in April the panel agreed to fund the application, as well as the cost of a certified medical vaporiser, for the administration of his medication. 

“It enables me to make the most of the time I have left”

Researchers collected patient outcomes at the onset of treatment and at two and four-month follow-ups using standardised questionnaires to assess the effects of the treatment. 

Results showed improvements in anxiety and quality of sleep associated with the addition of medical cannabis. Roberts was also able to discontinue the use of prescription drugs, such as diazepam and zopiclone, and to reduce his dose of the antidepressant, fluoxetine. 

He says that alongside helping to control CINV, the treatment has reduced the impact of other symptoms related to his diagnosis. 

“Using medical cannabis transforms me from an anxiety-ridden, vomiting, fatigued wreck into an active family participant, playing with my kids, chatting with my wife and friends, cooking meals, and cleaning the house,” he writes in the case report.

“It enables me to make the most of the time I have left, whether I’m on chemo or recovering from it. I want to use medical cannabis to have the best possible quality of life for my remaining years.”

A ‘significant step in palliative cancer care’ 

In the five and a half years since medical cannabis was legalised, fewer than five prescriptions have been issued on the NHS and only two are thought to be for adults. 

The clinical team behind the report believe that Roberts was able to obtain NHS reimbursement due to the fact that CINV is an indication approved for the prescription of an authorised cannabis-based product for medicinal use, as well as the limited duration of the IFR due to his “unfortunately, short prognosis”. 

“This case report highlights the potential of THC-predominant cannabis flowers in the management of CINV in a cancer patient, marking a significant step in palliative cancer care,” write the authors in the paper’s conclusion.

“This report brings further attention to the challenges faced by patients in accessing CBMPs within the NHS, despite their legalization and acknowledged potential in symptom management. The successful individual funding request in this case demonstrates a pathway for other patients to gain access to these treatments, advocating for broader awareness and integration of CBMPs in national healthcare systems.”

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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