Thursday 10 September 2020 4:32 am

The UK needs a science-led cannabis industry to help people get prescriptions

Cannabis has been legal medically since November 2018, but it is still not easy to get a prescription. 

It is sadly the reality in the UK that the vast majority of cannabis is still supplied by the black market, and not by doctors. When you consider that some estimates suggest that about 1.3m people in this country regularly use cannabis illegally for medical reasons, our collective failure to prescribe cannabis to patients, particularly for pain, is driving people to the criminal market. 

Read more: Green fingers: How cannabis can fuel a British agri-tech revolution

There have been many advocates who have pointed the blame at NHS doctors who are still reluctant to prescribe it. The argument is that doctors do not have the confidence to because they have never learnt about cannabis or the endocannabinoid system. Guidance by the drugs advisory body the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is also still hugely negative. 

Yet, private prescriptions have risen 20 to 30 per cent month-on-month at clinics opening around the country. Most prescriptions are for pain and neurological conditions, but also for multiple sclerosis and complaints like anxiety and PTSD. 

This solution, unfortunately, only serves people who can afford it and therefore does not reflect the UK’s progressive NHS values. Yet, there is clearly a willingness amongst doctors to prescribe it via the unlicensed medicine route in these cases to help their patients when it is available and particularly if other medication has not worked.   

Physicians therefore need the confidence to enable them to prescribe within the NHS. Pain management is one of the most troubling and expensive issues for the health service. For many patients it is a hopeless exercise of jumping from one prescription drug to another at a huge cost to the NHS. 

Health experts have warned that opioid painkillers do not work for nine in 10 people with chronic pain. With the NHS now looking to move away from prescribing these addictive opioid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, there is a need for alternative medicines that work. 

That is why pharmaceutical companies like Brains Bioceutical entry to the UK cannabis market is significant. Cannabis is cheap and it is effective. Its cost to the NHS is likely to be “net zero” according to many experts. 

NHS doctors will be desperate to help their patients and not block care, but we need to help them by running the appropriate clinical studies and providing safety and efficacy here in the UK. 

This will help to accelerate NHS understanding and confidence in cannabis as a viable medical and therapeutic treatment. Currently, only a few prescriptions have been issued on the NHS, and it is still not recommended for pain relief. NICE guidelines have also said doctors should be wary of handing products containing THC to patients before full medical trials have taken place.

The UK has the potential to be the one of the world’s leading countries in the production of cannabis-based prescription medications. With a strong and regulated industry, we can help remove the remaining stigma around cannabis by producing quality and refined cannabis products that have undergone full medical trials. Once these enter the market, this will improve patient experiences and access to medical cannabis.

Read more: My son needs medical cannabis — but the UK approach remains a national disgrace

Germany was in a similar position to the UK three years ago but has now grown into the largest medicinal cannabis market in Europe, since legalising it in 2017, offering both a domestic market and the potential to export. The UK currently exports cannabis to the patients of 48 other countries where medical cannabis is legal for pain, but UK patients still do not have access to medicine manufactured in their own country. 

A strong regulated cannabis industry is the answer to delivering patients their prescriptions and helping the nation with its chronic pain problem. At Brains, we are committed though our UK facility BSPG LABS to provide vital assistance to the government and the NHS to help meet patient needs. 

Gurdeep Bains is President of Brains bioceutical. Brains bioceutical have a wholly owned subsidiary the UK BSPG Labs and are and are the only company in the UK to manufacture EU-GMP CBD API from a natural source outside GW Pharmaceuticals.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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