Medical Cannabis is still something of a new-topic within the UK, which remains generally poorly understood by most doctors and largely unavailable for patients seeking it in the hope that it may provide symptoms relief where other more conventional therapies have failed.
Since the re-scheduling of cannabis in November 2018, the general public is becoming increasingly aware of the potential therapeutic potential of cannabis-based medical products (CBMPs). Medical professionals and academics meanwhile continue to weigh up the available evidence, assess risks versus benefits and how CBMPs could assist with treatments and improving quality of life.
Whilst UK legislation only permits specialist doctors to initiate scripts for a cannabis-based medical product, GPs may be expected to monitor and prescribe treatments on a shared care basis as set out in recent NICE guidelines.
With this in mind, we ask - how much well equipped do you feel to discuss medical-cannabis with your patients?
What’s to know?
As GPs, you tend to be the first point-of-call for any health-related issues from patients. Why? They know you; they feel confident to ask you and they trust your opinions. With this in mind, patients are likely to approach their GP for information about CBMPs whether it is for their own treatment, or for a close relative. We regularly speak with GPs across the UK who report that in their patients are increasingly asking about medical cannabis treatments in and over the counter CBD/wellness products. Most GPs currently feel ill-equipped to manage the majority of questions and patient’s expectations.
Keeping up-to-date with medical and scientific advances is an essential component of medical practice and forms part of GMC’s Good Medical Practice and understanding CBMPs is no exception to this.
Over the past few years we have witnessed a rapid increase in the number of clinical trials and academic research within this emerging area, particularly as jurisdictions across the globe have relaxed their laws and opened up cannabis for medical use.
We recommend that as front-line health care professionals you develop your knowledge and confidence within this emerging field of medicine by regularly checking reputable sources and publications for clinical updates (for example via PubMed) or signing up to sites such as ours for newsletters and guidance on topical issues surrounding Medical Cannabis.
Not only do GPs need to be more confident in their understanding of CBMPs; they need to ensure they have a full understanding of the Endocannabinoid system, a neurotransmitter system contained throughout the whole body which interacts with phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids that occur naturally in the cannabis plant). This complex and subtle system is now understood to play a vital role in homeostasis; regulating a range of major functions including our sleep/wake cycles, pain, appetite, and mood, as well as numerous immune functions.
Despite being discovered in the early 1990s, most doctors were not taught about the endocannabinoid system at medical school, but is now being recognised as an area of major importance and is slowly being introduced into medical school curriculums throughout the world.
Other countries around the world such as Canada, The US and Israel have been prescribing Medical Cannabis to patients for some time now. Should the UK try to learn from these countries? The answer, of course is yes.
Many specialist doctors in the UK who could prescribe Medical Cannabis to patients will have trained many years before the subject of Medical Cannabis was ever discussed. As we approach a new generation of specialist doctors and GPs, attitudes and learnings surrounding cannabis for medical use needs to adapt to a changing landscape if we are to serve our patients needs. Cannabis for medical use is now legal in over 50 countries worldwide with this number increasing every month.
The Primary Care Cannabis Network aims to expand the knowledge of cannabis-based medical treatments and is focussed on academic research, education, key-papers and open discussions. We focus specifically on the needs of GPs and as more GPs across the UK reach out to the Primary Care Cannabis Network for more information on Medical Cannabis, a bigger community is forming which will enable us to confidently work together and with specialists to understand the various regulatory pathways that exist within the UK.
Moving forwards into 2020, the PCCN will host a series of events on Medical Cannabis and will also be key-note speakers at other seminars within industry. For more information on these events or to be kept up-to-date with the latest news and member meeting, subscribe to our Journal Club today.