Understanding the barriers to medical cannabis access
Cannabis has been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of medical conditions, yet patients in the UK continue to face barriers in accessing this life-changing medication. A new report published by Volteface sheds light on the challenges patients and doctors face when trying to obtain and prescribe medical cannabis.
Authored by Katya Kowalski and titled "Known Unknowns," this groundbreaking report explores UK doctors' attitudes towards cannabis prescribing. This study sheds light on medical cannabis access in Britain – providing clinicians and industry experts with a guide to tackling barriers impeding its prescription.
In the UK, clinicians are facing a tricky dilemma; although legally allowed to prescribe medical cannabis, many struggle to do so given the lack of support from their supporting bodies, the perception of limited evidence into its efficacy, and existing ineffective governance structures.
Key findings of the Known Unknowns report
The exploration by Volteface, who spoke to 41 UK doctors to compile the report, identified three obstacles preventing more frequent prescriptions: the lack of specific and appropriate evidence of how well cannabis works as a medicine, an ineffective governance system, and the fact that cannabis is different from other pharmaceutical products in terms of dosing and effect.
According to the report, doctors were ill-equipped to incorporate cannabis-based medicines into their practices, due to a lack of understanding and guidance. Most clinicians interviewed for the report reported feeling overwhelmed by an information deficit and lack of standardised protocols around prescribing this type of medicine.
Decades of strict regulation have caused medical professionals to be skeptical when it comes to cannabis as a medicine, resulting in an unfortunate stigma that has prevented its full acceptance. These preconceived notions about cannabis have prevented it from being fully accepted as a medicine and raised clinicians' concerns.
The pressure is on for NHS trusts to keep up with advancements in the private sector. Known Unknowns predicts that as more medical professionals become aware of cannabis' health benefits, there will be an increased prescription rate for medicinal cannabis both within and outside of the National Health Service.
As a way to address the concerns of clinicians, the report also looks at solutions and innovations from the industry. It highlights data, research, and industry insights from leading medical cannabis organisations. The report identified three barriers to clinicians, and proposed five solutions:
1. Prescribing outside the clinic model
Recruiting clinicians has been difficult due to the cannabis clinic model. This can be fixed by giving doctors easy-to-use governance platforms that let them write prescriptions for cannabis even when they're not in a clinic.
Clinicians cited the lack of indication-specific evidence as a reason for non-targeted prescribing. Both Tikun Olam and Little Green Pharma have been researching targeted medical cannabis products to make prescribing easier with products that have some evidence.
3. More clinical trials
The lack of high-quality clinical trials for cannabis medicines has hindered access. The report discussed the need for clinical trials and data collection.
4. Innovative dosing and administration methods
Cannabis' uniqueness as a medicine makes its administration a barrier for many clinicians, who associate it with a recreational product. Innovative delivery mechanisms that deliver a consistent, metered dose could help overcome this barrier.
5. Clinicians helping clinicians
Despite limited public knowledge about cannabis prescriptions, Hannah Deacon and Prof. Mike Barnes of Maple Tree have taken bold strides to offer crucial insight. Through their involvement with the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, they've been able to provide relevant information on doctor training and foster greater understanding amongst the medical community - an effort that was recognised in Known Unknowns.
Volteface aims to move the conversation about cannabis in UK healthcare circles away from traditional stigma, and into a more evidence-based dialogue that is comparable with other medications.
Download and read the full report at the Volteface website.
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