In the last few years, medicinal cannabis has made its way onto news headlines across the globe, having been hailed for its life-changing properties which can help those suffering from various illnesses including epilepsy, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.
But with more publicity comes more questions, from its legal status, its benefits to the body, and the reasons behind its limited prescription on the NHS. Releaf, the UK’s first all-in-one medicinal cannabis e-clinic, has broken down everything you need to know about medicinal cannabis in the UK.
What is Medicinal Cannabis?
Although cannabis is widely known as a being an illicit street drug used for recreational purposes to make someone ‘high’, the cannabis plant has actually been used for medical purposes for thousands of years. Initially utilised by ancient civilisations to treat various ailments, including pain and inflammation, the cannabis plant has made a recent resurgence in medical practices and treatment plans.
In 2018, a significant milestone was reached in the UK, and cannabis was legalised for medical use, allowing specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis-based products to treat specific conditions.
How does it work?
The cannabis plant contains a group of compounds called cannabinoids. The most well known cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD), which is famous for its therapeutical benefits such as pain relief and reduced anxiety, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is known for its psychoactive effects and aiding pain management and appetite stimulation.
How does it differ from CBD products?
Awareness of CBD has increased dramatically in recent years with the growth of CBD wellness industry, and these products often use their cannabinoid contents to promote themselves as being useful in relieving anxiety and pain. CBD products have a controlled dosage of CBD and are not allowed to contain more than 0.2% of THC per product if they are sold over the counter. CBD products are normally marketed as calming, wellness products, that are not addictive and cannot get you ‘high’.
Medicinal cannabis on the other hand is a whole-plant preparation, which includes varying levels THC. Because of this, it has to be prescribed for a serious medical issues by a Specialist doctor registered by the General Medical Council.
What conditions can Medicinal Cannabis treat?
Medicinal cannabis can be used to treat a range of illnesses and conditions, including but not limited to:
- Chronic pain
- Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Anxiety and depression
- Gut health
- Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
Where else is it legal?
Medicinal cannabis is legalised in nearly 50 countries including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. It’s also legal in 38 states in the United States.
The first country to legalise cannabis for medical use was Canada in 2001. It has since legalised cannabis for recreational use, and yearly reports from the Canadian government reveal more benefits to users than harm and stable usage levels.
What side effects are there?
Some of the most common side effects from medicinal cannabis usage include dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth, light-headedness, drowsiness, and nausea.
Legal prescriptions of medicinal cannabis are regularly monitored by doctors who can alter a prescription based on the patient’s needs, which can help to reduce some of the more common side effects significantly.
Are there any drawbacks?
It appears that in the UK, awareness of the potential uses and benefits of medicinal cannabis is still relatively low, with recent research from Releaf revealing that more than half (58.5%) of people are unaware of its legal status in the UK. This isn’t just limited to public awareness, but also a complete understanding of it within the medical industry itself, which is just one of many reasons for the low prescription figures that we see in the UK.
Other factors include the cost of prescriptions, restrictions placed around the type of doctors that can prescribe, and stringent regulations in the NHS that dictate the type of cannabis based medicines that can be prescribed to patients.
Why is awareness of its benefits so low?
Because of the longstanding negative stigma around the recreational use of cannabis, there is a heavy shadow over the benefits it can have when used for medical purposes.
Despite ongoing research into its benefits for medical use, minimal education and training is given to those in the medical community around it, and so the gap in understanding the complex makeup of the cannabis leaf results in a lack of knowledge.
Politically, medical cannabis can also be seen as a divisive issue as many people still hold negative perceptions around it, with the portrayal of cannabis in the media only perpetuating the negative stigma further.
What can be done to increase this?
Increased awareness of medical cannabis’ potential needs to be made in several areas. Firstly, implementing educational awareness campaigns could help to dispel myths and raise awareness amongst the public and bring about more interest into the benefits it can have.
Training doctors, nurses, and pharmacists in cannabis-based medicines would also put more knowledge in front of the people who are able to prescribe and monitor patients properly. Policy changes from government officials would also help to make it easier for doctors to access and prescribe medical cannabis, as well as reduce the overall costs.
Finally, allocating funding into further research on medical cannabis will help provide evidence of its full benefits and show just how far it can go in helping those struggling with chronic illnesses.
For more information, please visit https://releaf.co.uk/