Despite medicinal cannabis being legalised on the 1st of November, Britain’s most in need continue to be denied life-saving treatment.
What were we promised? Following years of lobbying, November 1st was supposed to be the beginning of medicinal cannabis prescriptions being available, via the NHS, for those most in need of alternative treatment.
Of course, nobody expected to be given access to legal cannabis at the drop of a hat. Only patients who have already explored every other available treatment option were ever supposed to gain access to medicinal cannabis. The parents of children seriously affected by epilepsy were at the forefront of the campaign; with the parents of Alfie Dingley being amongst the most heavily featured in the national press. Patients undergoing chemotherapy are also eligible to be considered for medicinal cannabis treatment, intended to alleviate nausea and discomfort caused by this particularly aggressive cancer treatment.
Those suffering from multiple sclerosis or chronic pain conditions are also eligible to receive cannabis via the NHS. For many, this change in the law was expected to be a blessing. Some families, likely a significantly higher percentage than would publicly admit, have taken matters into their own hands; sourcing cannabis oil (even making it themselves) illegally to treat their children.
Caring for a child with a debilitating condition is difficult enough, without the looming threat of prosecution; so this was a welcome change to say the least.
What is the reality?
At the time of writing, not a single person (adult or child) has been prescribed cannabis via the NHS. Patients have been prescribed cannabis via private surgeries, at great expense which is completely unsustainable for the majority of people.
Whilst Britain does not have an opiate epidemic to the extent of America’s, patients that are prescribed them are being prevented from coming off of these to try cannabis.
But for the patients willing to pay for private treatment, there is an opportunity to try the far gentler medicinal cannabis. One of these patients, a sufferer of Crohn’s disease, said
“It’s a hard thing to do to yourself to put up with becoming addicted to opioids or putting up with the vomiting and nausea that come with immune-suppressing drugs,” “But the £695 price tag, for only a month’s worth, takes the edge off the good news,”
The patient also noted that he would not be able to financially support his treatment in the long term, meaning he will have no choice but to return to the medications he feels has ravaged his body and prevented him from reaching the quality of life that cannabis can provide.
The infrastructure and education required by authorities necessary for a system of medicinal cannabis to really flourish also appears to be severely lacking. Significant issues have occurred relating to importing this substance, and these delays can lead to real problems for patients.
Parents have been apprehended upon entering the UK with their children’s perfectly legal and legitimate medication; the cannabis is seized, and children are left without medicine for an unspecified amount of time.
This effectively places the lives of such children at risk, and is completely avoidable. A child receiving cannabis treatment, Tegan Appleby, has her medicine held by customs; devastating her parents and delaying her treatment. It is just days ago, at the time of writing, that this was returned to the family.
Another problem arises with the length of time necessary to import cannabis for medicinal purposes. A license must be obtained from the Home Office, and the whole process can take up to 28 days; by which point a prescription may have run out of time, leaving the recipient without.
Why aren’t prescriptions being written? One of the largest contributing factors to the complete lack of NHS cannabis prescriptions is doctors’ hesitancy to prescribe.
As cannabis is an unlicensed medicine, the responsibility (and in turn, blame) for any unexpected side effects fall squarely on the shoulders of whoever wrote the prescription.
Studies into the effects of cannabis for medicinal usage aren’t as extensive as the majority of medicines, due to it only being considered as a viable option by most in the recent past.
Cannabis flower also presents considerable difficulty, as its compounds are far more numerous than most approved medicines. Morphine, for example, is a single compound that can be tested and controlled individually. Cannabis has a range of compounds, each responsible for different effects; with each affecting individual patients to different degrees.
Whilst GPs are not able to prescribe, this responsibility falls solely to specialists; there is a fear amongst medical professionals of coming under serious scrutiny, with their medical licenses at stake, if anything were to go wrong.
Of course, there is a systematic lack of education spanning a great deal of the medical profession regarding cannabis. The knowledge most in the medical community hold currently relates only to the exacerbation of mental illness by cannabis. Schizophrenia and psychotic episodes, as well as worsening depression, is as far as most expertise stretches.
Medical professionals are not devoid of their own opinions either, and it’s more than possible that somebody’s own personal prejudice or negative experience with cannabis could prevent them from considering its use within their practice.
Such individuals would likely be acting in good conscience (considering this to fall within their hippocratic oath) , though this could still be detrimental for patients.
“As it stands, patients are left in limbo”
So, where does this leave patients?
As it stands, patients are left in limbo. A number of people simply remain on medications that they feel do not work effectively for them; medications that do not provide the quality of life that cannabis may be able to.
In the case of opiates, this is particularly problematic; as people who would never dream of purchasing heroin from a dealer on the streets, develop lifelong addictions to drugs just as difficult to kick.
Some will be refused access to cannabis and take matters into their own hands. This will mean funding potentially dangerous organisations, and pouring money into a criminal market. They will risk arrest, and will be unable to count on the safety of the products they consume.
The third eventuality is available only to those privileged enough. Those registered with private clinics have a slightly easier time persuading consultants to prescribe them cannabis, but this comes at huge cost.
For the majority of people, this is simply not an option. Some are able to pay for their medication, though how long they are able to fund this for varies by individual funds.
Cannabis clinics are beginning to open, based on the altruistic principle that medicinal cannabis should be more easily available than it is. However, such businesses are controversial. Some will always see them as a simple cash-grab, perpetuating the two-tier system where only those with a fair amount of personal wealth have such treatment available to them.
Any advancements in the availability of cannabis are a positive step, but the blocking out of certain patients is worrisome to say the least.
It is only once education and understanding become bountiful in this country that the playing field will be levelled.
By Rhiannon Smith – Hemp & CBD Mag
this article was published in the June issue of the Hemp & CBD Mag – Read the full issue here