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Since medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in November 2018, public understanding of this treatment option has significantly increased, following high profile campaigns such as access to cannabis for children with epilepsy and new treatments for patients with Multiple Sclerosis.

According to research carried out by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis in 2019, 1.4m people in the UK have used cannabis for medical reasons and over 11% of UK adults (6 million people) have tried a CBD product. It’s fair to say that more people than ever are exploring the benefits of this treatment.

What does this mean for the UK’s clinicians?

How should you be talking to your patients about medical cannabis? In this new guide for UK clinicians, our expert committee and medical cannabis patients advise.

Download ‘How to speak to your patients about medical cannabis’

Download a PDF version of this guide, to read online, print and share.

Includes further content including comments from the executive committee and patients including Lucy Stafford.

Click below or on the image to the right to read online.

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How to talk to your patients about medical cannabis

1. Become informed

Medical cannabis treatment is a legal and valid option for patients with chronic conditions.

When the Government changed the law to make medical cannabis available on prescription, they stated:

GMC Specialist Doctors must make decisions on prescribing cannabis-based products for medicinal use on a case-by-case basis, and only when the patient has an unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products.

Medical cannabis is considered a treatment of last resort, so patients must be able to evidence that they have tried traditional licensed medicines first.

There are no conditions which have been deemed unsuitable for referral for medical cannabis treatment. Read more in Recommendations and Guidance on Medical Cannabis under Prescription.

2. Be open minded to alternative approaches

If a patient shares with you that they would like to access medical cannabis treatment, be open minded.

In many cases, patients will have undertaken a great deal of research into the options and may consider this the last option for a better quality of life.

If a patient talks about their experience of self-medicating medical cannabis, open the conversation and let them know they can talk to you about it.

They may want to talk about the impact on their symptoms or their concerns about buying this illegally.

Patients accessing cannabis on the black market may be at risk of arrest or be using cannabis products which are very high in THC, the compound which has a psycho mimetic effect people often associate with the feeling of getting ‘high’.

Accessing medical cannabis on prescription is safer, with tightly regulated products and regular contact with health care professionals for monitoring and dosage adjustments.

3. Facilitate appropriate referrals for treatment

Medical cannabis is only available privately to patients in the UK at present, and clinics require a referral from a GP or specialist before they can explore treatment options.

Medical cannabis clinics in the UK are registered with the CQC with strict regulation governing their service.

Referrals should be made in the usual way, with a letter outlining why the referral is required, details of relevant functional or social circumstances, medical history and diagnoses.

A list of CQC-registered medical cannabis clinics in the UK can be found here.

4. Make your next CPD about medical cannabis

There is a wealth of global evidence supporting medical cannabis as a treatment option for chronic pain, neurological and psychological conditions.

There are free and paid online courses available to all medical professionals and interested members of the public. Here are some we are aware of:

NHS England has developed online learning with Health Education England e-Learning for Healthcare and the University of Birmingham. It covers cannabis and cannabis-based products for medicinal use and is available for all healthcare professionals.

It is written by Bhavana Reddy, Specialist Pharmacist Adviser, NHS England, Dr Sarah Pontefract, Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics and Hannah Vallance, SCRIPT eLearning Manager, both University of Birmingham.

The Academy of Medical Cannabis has a free introductory course for learners – Medical Cannabis Essentials – and further paid-for courses for different specialities and clinical areas.

Written by Society Chair Professor Mike Barnes and Vice Chair Dr. Dani Gordon, clinical specialist in cannabis medicine, the online modules provide essential guidance.  It is open to everyone.

5. Join the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society

Members of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society are a peer support network of prescribing doctors, providing expert mentorship, regular sector updates and reduced entry for events and training.

Speak to our committee members, some of whom are already prescribing.

Share your experience of learning and training, share evidence and research and ask for support, 24/7.

Join the Society