Demand for medical cannabis in the UK has surged in recent years, we’ve all seen the success of medical marijuana globally , and now people want to know how they can access it in the UK. To fully understand medical cannabis, we need to look at the basics of medical marijuana and also take an in-depth look at the successes so far and the future of the medicine. We’ll also investigate the side effects of medical marijuana and the potential long term effects of using the drug.
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Here’s all the info you need to know about medical cannabis in the UK.
Medical Cannabis is available to most people who have tried previous treatment options but not found them effective. The majority of medical cannabis prescriptions in the UK are through private clinics. We can help you navigate the process of getting a prescription and explain every step of the way and help you choose the best option for you. Contact us today to find out more for free.
What is cannabis?
To know exactly what medical cannabis is we need to understand that the UK government calls the whole area Cannabis based products for medicinal use (CBPM’s) because there are a whole range of options. Let’s first take a look at what cannabis is.
Cannabis sativa, also known as marijuana, is a species of the Cannabaceae family of plants that grows naturally in subtropical zones. Cannabis contains a whole range of active ingredients including cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that work together and interact with the body’s engine management system, the Endocannabinoid system. The most famous cannabinoids are the psychoactive compound THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) as well as non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol). THC is believed to be responsible for the characteristic psychoactive effects of cannabis, which many people refer to as the “high” that is experienced when cannabis is consumed. However, not all components of cannabis are psychoactive, the most well known of these non-psychoactive components is CBD.
CBD has quickly gained a hugely positive reputation for its non-toxic effects on the body as well as its reputed anti-inflammatory benefits. These benefits have led to a surge in popularity with the public, in particular in the health and fitness industries.
What are the differences between cannabis and medical cannabis?
The main difference between medical cannabis and cannabis is that you are prescribed medical cannabis by a consultant doctor who understands which blend of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids will be most effective for you. . It is used solely for its medical benefits. You should also remember that medical cannabis is legal, where cannabis bought from unlicensed sources is not.
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It’s also important to keep in mind that even though some products claim to be medicinal cannabis, such as ‘CBD’ oil or hemp oil that are readily available as food supplements from health stores and other outlets, there is no guarantee these are effective or high quality.
Medical cannabis comes in various forms, these include oils, liquids, tablets or capsules. It can also come in alternative forms such as nasal sprays and the traditional dried leaves and buds, which must be vaporised or taken as edibles.
Where does medical cannabis come from?
The majority of medicinal cannabis in the UK comes from Canada, Australia, Israel & South America where their early adoption of medical marijuana has resulted in a world leading EU GMP cannabis facilities need to grow medical cannabis., EUGMP is the medical cannabis standard used to make sure prescribed cannabis products in the UK are safe. This is completely different from illicit street cannabis where there is no regulation or safety standards. Importing medical cannabis into the UK in a complex and regulated process and business owners must adhere to strict standards. he Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) must confirm the safety of any cannabis being imported and each product must have a complete Certificate of Analysis that test for the strength, potency of the main Cannabinoid THC & CBD. Once the MHRA is satisfied the Home office issues an import licence.
On the other side of the deal, the international company must have an export licence. This highly regulated and inspected process ensures that quality products are sold by trustworthy sources.
What are the common uses of medical cannabis?
People have been turning to medical cannabis to relieve a range of ailments, the most popular of these include severe or long-term pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy and painful muscle spasms.
However, there are even more medical conditions that patients have treated with medical cannabis:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Huntington’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle spasms
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Seizures (epilepsy)
- Severe pain (and if an alternative to opioid use)
- Severe nausea
- Spinal cord injury with spasticity
- Cachexia or dramatic weight loss and muscle atrophy (wasting syndrome)
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Both CBD and THC components of cannabis have many of the same benefits. They can potentially provide relief for several of the same conditions. As mentioned above, CBD doesn’t cause the euphoric effects that occur with THC, so many people may prefer to use CBD for that reason.
Epidyolex, known as Epidiolex in the US, is the first FDA-approved treatment in the United States that contains a purified drug substance derived from cannabis. It is used to treat rare and difficult to control forms of epilepsy, including Dravet syndrome. In 2020, Epidyolex became available for patients to use in the UK and US. The results were extremely encouraging, with 516 patients showing Epidyolex to be effective in reducing the seizure frequency when compared with placebo.
As with any medicine, there are potential side effects. Common side effects with Epidyolex can include:
- elevated liver enzymes
- lowered appetite
Nabilone is used by people who suffer from nausea while going through chemotherapy. It is only prescribed if other medicines and treatments have not worked and is taken in tablet form. Side effects include:
For patients suffering from muscle spasticity due to Multiple Sclerosis, they may be prescribed Nabiximols. This drug is administered as a spray and can help reduce the frequency and intensity of muscle spasticity. Side effects include:
- memory or concentration problems
Treating rare diseases with THC and CBD
Drugs containing THC and CBD may be helpful in treating certain rare forms of epilepsy, autoimmune conditions and genetic disorders. International research in cannabis is moving at pace. The UK has one of the world’s biggest observational trials run by Drug Science. The NHS is even starting a trail soon. Thankfully research into medical cannabis is proving very popular. In addition, some evidence suggests modest benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids for multiple sclerosis symptoms and chronic pain.
Do I need a prescription to buy medical cannabis?
To use cannabis legally in the UK you must have a medical prescription. Many people who find traditional medication does not work due to side effects or if previous treatments have been ineffective are now looking to medical cannabis. The evidence from Germany, Australia and Canada has been that many people find medical cannabis effective.. As with any medical advice, it is best to discuss this with an expert like AccessKaneh who can for free help inform you about all the options before you pay for a private consultation.
Can I buy medical marijuana in the UK?
Yes, you can buy medical marijuana in the UK, although it may not be as readily available as you might expect. Most pharmacies do not stock medical cannabis, however, your medical cannabis clinic will recommend a dispensary close to your home.
Meaning that you need to go to one of the fifteen medical cannabis clinics in the UK. Once you have your prescription, one of the Medical cannabis dispensaries can fulfil your prescription and the medication is delivered by courier to your door.
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How can I get a medical cannabis prescription?
There are a limited number of ways you can gain access to a prescription. A GP is unable to prescribe cannabis-based medicine. However, a specialist hospital doctor is authorised to prescribe it.
It’s important to remember that medicinal cannabis is an option of last resort and not yet an option of choice and a GP is unable to prescribe it. GPs are able to refer patients to medical cannabis clinics. In a hospital setting, a specialist is authorised to prescribe it under these conditions:
- a child has a rare form of epilepsy including Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut
- you have spasticity from MS and treatments for this are not helping
- you have vomiting or feel sick from chemotherapy and anti-sickness treatments are not helping
A prescription for medical cannabis is only given when believed to be in your best interests. A specialist will discuss the options with you having looked at your medical history normally a summary of Care record.You can get a medical cannabis prescription from a medical cannabis clinic.
Medical cannabis clinics in the UK
Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK since 2018, there are currently 15 medical cannabis clinics operating in the UK with more opening in 2022, these clinics offer telemedicine consultation services over the internet once your identity has been verified, so you can be prescribed medical cannabis remotely. Once a patient obtains a prescription for medical cannabis, they can legally obtain medical cannabis in the UK and the medication will be legally delivered to the door.
Cannabis Access Clinics
Providing the UK’s first 100% online medical cannabis service, Cannabis Access Clinics, conduct their consultations via video. Their roster of doctors are specialists and have experience in prescribing medical cannabis products to help alleviate symptoms of specific illnesses.
All of Cannabis Access Clinic’s doctors are registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) and work in accordance with Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) guidelines. They also work closely with your GP to ensure that everyone is informed about your progress with medical cannabis.
Employing conventional medical specialists and doctor’s who have expertise in medical cannabis, Integro Clinics has established itself as one of the UK’s top medical cannabis clinics. They offer online consultations and follow up with a check in service once you have started taking your medicines. They’re partnered with Grow Pharma who supply a vast amount of the UK with medical cannabis.
Specialising in affordable medical cannabis for people with chronic conditions, MyAccess Clinics aims to make medical marijuana more accessible for those who need it. They offer independent advice to help find the right treatment and medicine for your illness. You can book an appointment without a referral and, like other clinics, they follow up with your doctor to ensure that everything is operating smoothly.
Sapphire Medical Clinics
As winner of Best Medical Cannabis Clinic in the UK in 2020, Sapphire Medical Clinics is a popular choice with many patients, in fact, the clinic reports that 100% of their patients are happy to see their Sapphire doctor again. The clinic is the UK’s first CQC registered medical cannabis clinic and they also offer video consultations. For those who may not be able to afford medical cannabis, their Real World Evidence Platform offers medicine at a reduced price.
The Medical Cannabis Clinics
The CQC registered Medical Cannabis Clinics strive to provide effective medical care for their patients. Through a video consultation and follow up appointment, patients are able to get a repeat prescription for medical cannabis. The Medical Cannabis Clinics prescribe medicine to treat gastroenterological issues, psychiatric conditions and oncological conditions, amongst many more.
How much cannabis can I get with a medical cannabis prescription?
Your prescription depends on the condition that you suffer from, but on average most prescriptions are from one gram per day. For people living in the UK, this works out to cost between £350 and £500 per month. While this is two to three times higher than the cost on the blackmarket, the quality is far superior and the products have been tested extensively and approved for use.
What are the side effects of cannabis?
The effects of cannabis vary from user-to-user and depend upon the dose and the individual’s endocannabinoid system. By taking unregulated cannabis products, it is extremely difficult to know what levels of THC and CBD are suitable for you. For this reason, it’s important to only take cannabis products that are legal and correctly labelled.
Effects of cannabis use can include:
- an altered state of consciousness. The user may feel euphoric, relaxed, sociable and uninhibited
- distorted perceptions of time and space
- increased pulse and heart rate, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils and often increased appetite
- impaired coordination and concentration, making activities such as driving a car or operating machinery difficult and dangerous
- negative experiences, such as anxiousness, panic, self-consciousness and paranoid thoughts.
Varying concentrations of THC, cannabidiol (CBD), or hybrid products exist in products found in cannabis dispensaries, so it’s really important that we know what they are.
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What is THC?
THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. It is responsible for the “high or lifted sensation” people feel. There are two man-made drugs called dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet) that are synthetic forms of THC. They are FDA-approved to prevent nausea and vomiting in people receiving chemotherapy.
What is CBD?
CBD or cannabidiol is another compound in cannabis that is not psychoactive. CBD is thought to be responsible for mitigating some of the effects of THC. People you use illicet cannabis high in THC should use CBD to help protect against some of the mental health effects of high use of THC cannabis.
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What’s the difference between THC and CBD?
The cannabinoids CBD and THC are the components of cannabis that work together and can potentially provide relief for a whole range of conditions. As CBD doesn’t cause the euphoric effects that occur with THC some people may prefer to use CBD on its own but in medical cannabis there are many products available. Clinicians help patients find just the right balance and ratio of CBD and THC they need to use for effective treatment
Both Cannabinoids and others like CBG and CBN have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. A slight difference in how the atoms are arranged results in differing effects on your body. They’re both chemically similar to your body’s own endocannabinoids allowing them to interact with your Endocannabinoid receptors.
The interaction affects the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for relaying messages between cells. They also have roles in pain, immune function, stress, and sleep.
CBD vs. THC: Psychoactive components
Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don’t have the same psychoactive effects. CBD is actually a non-psychoactive compound. That means it doesn’t produce the “high” associated with THC.
THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. It produces a high or sense of euphoria. CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors. In fact, it can interfere with the binding of THC and dampen the psychoactive effects.
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The long term side effects of cannabis
Like any approved and licenced medicine, there can be long term side effects. To the uninformed, medical cannabis may seem risky, but compared to a lot of off-the-shelf medicines, it has similar side effects.
Long term effects of heavy use can include:
- irritation to the lungs or an increased risk of developing cancer of the respiratory tract
- exacerbation of pre-existing cardiovascular diseases, as cannabis use significantly raises your heart rate.
- decreased concentration levels reduced short-term memory and difficulties with thinking and learning
- decreased sex drive in some people. Chronic use can lower sperm count in males and lead to irregular periods in females
- dependence on cannabis — compulsive need to use the drug, coupled with problems associated with chronic drug use
- cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome
Clear communication with your GP is important when you start taking medical cannabis. Let them know if you have any side effects so they can recommend a solution. CBD and THC can affect how other medicines work, so it’s important that your GP is aware of this.
As well as this, there are public health concerns about the safety of driving under the influence of medical cannabis. Driving with 2 micrograms of cannabis per litre of blood is illegal in the UK as this can impair your driving and endanger others on the road. However, a JAMA study found that in states where they’ve legalised medical cannabis there was a lower rate of opioid overdose deaths.
How does medical cannabis interact with other drugs?
Medical cannabis can affect how other drugs work. These range from other prescription medicines like muscle relaxants, antidepressants, antihistamines and seizure medicines. Medical cannabis can also affect your reaction to alcohol, some people have reported a delayed reaction to the feeling of being drunk.
Does cannabis extract work?
Recently, high street shops and popular online stores have been using cannabis extract to make CBD oil. These often come from reputable suppliers, but due to limited regulation and complex rules, these can often contain more than 1mg of THC per container, regardless of the volume of the container. Anything above 1mg is illegal in the UK.
Medical cannabis research
Research into medical cannabis has exploded in recent years, with a number of projects running at any given time, with the majority occurring in the US. In 2016, America’s National Institutes of Health noted 165 cannabis related studies that year. The majority of these studies look into how people use cannabis. Many are also studies on how the endocannabinoid system in the brain and immune system works.
Issues facing medical cannabis research
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers cannabis a Schedule I drug under federal law, which puts it in the same classification as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Because of that, researchers in the US need a special license to study it.
That may not change anytime soon. The DEA considered reclassifying cannabis as a Schedule II drug like Ritalin or oxycodone but decided to keep it as a Schedule I drug. However, the agency did agree to support additional research on cannabis and make the process easier for researchers.
Medical cannabis research in the UK
The UK lags behind the US when it comes to cannabis research, but the NHS is striving to change things. The Secretary of State has recently commissioned the NHS to review their systems and processes in hope that they will identify any barriers to clinically prescribing cannabis based products.
The findings and recommendations are available in the document “Barriers to accessing cannabis-based products for medicinal use on NHS prescription“.
The NHS has provided information to clinicians and organisations following the rescheduling of cannabis-based products for medicinal use. There is a clear desire from both the NHS and patients to increase awareness of medical cannabis.
The UK has legislated for medical cannabis and things are moving forward, the government is implementing new changes that will allow medical cannabis patients to be protected by law. . We need to look at other countries that have a head start and learn from their success and mistakes to ensure we create a strong, controlled and accessible legal cannabis industry here in the UK for patients who can benefit from medical cannabis and CBD oils.
Medical cannabis in the UK is in its early days, but there are promising signs in the results and changing of people’s perceptions. As research continues, we can obtain more scientific facts and treat more people with medical cannabis. To stay up to date with the latest medical cannabis news, subscribe to our newsletter!
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