The Future of Medical Cannabis in the UK

The Future of Medical Cannabis in the UK

Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK since 2018. However, only a handful of people have been prescribed the medicine on the NHS. So, what does the future look like for medical cannabis in the UK?

Medical cannabis – otherwise called Cannabis-based products for medicinal use (CBPMs) - can be prescribed for several different conditions in the UK. However, unclear National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines make it difficult for doctors to prescribe them.

While private prescriptions are accessible, the cost can be a huge barrier for some people. This means that many people who desperately need medical cannabis still cannot access it.

A study of the UK industry highlighted how poor implementation of cannabis prescribing policy creates heath inequalities, emphasising the need for improved medical cannabis prescription guidelines. The authors write: “The UK government's lack of implementation of medical cannabis legalisation, combined with their ongoing prohibition position, is producing multiple harms to people who need cannabis medicine.

“The policy context is perpetuating stigmatising attitudes to cannabis which, as we demonstrate, contribute to social harms.”

The paper makes recommendations on equality of patient access, along with advocating on the importance of education and policy change.

Improving the future of medical cannabis

The paper’s authors highlight that up until now, medical cannabis prescribing has been superficial in the UK and implementation has been incomplete.

It emphasises issues such as lack of funding streams, lack of coherent pharmaceutical product supply, and lack of UK-wide training for all NHS and police staff, stating these issues are indictive of policy that fails to service patients.

The steps put forward in the paper to improve the future of the medical cannabis industry in the UK include:

  • Improving doctors’ knowledge of and resultant attitudes towards cannabis.
  • Expanding the NICE guidelines to include a broader range of indicated conditions.
  • Providing funding for NHS prescriptions.
  • Repairing the broken processes for producing, supplying and dispensing pharmaceutical cannabis.
  • To raise public awareness of the law change and make it legal and safe for patients to take their medicine in public without fear of stigmatisation, harassment from the police or breaching other laws, such as vaping indoors laws.

A new industry for the UK

Despite these teething problems with policy implementation and prescriptions, it is clear that the UK medical cannabis industry is set to grow.

A report from Maple Tree Consultancy highlighted that medical cannabis and related industries could create a huge job market for the UK – generating up to 97,000 new positions of employment, which is more than four times the number of jobs in the UK’s fishing industry.

These jobs would encompass farmers, researchers, production workers, accountants, lawyers, IT specialists, financial experts, and lab technicians, for example.

To set the industry in good stead, the report puts forward recommendations for the government including:

  • Reform high-THC cultivation license system to make the process simpler and speedier.
  • Allow the cultivation of hemp flowers in order to extract CBD under an Industrial hemp license so farmers and investors to make more advantageous returns on hemp growing and assist with more readily available high CBD medicines and supply for the wellness market.
  • Increase the THC limit for approved seeds from 0.2% to 1% to align with international competition.
  • To review the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 to allow CBD suppliers to make justifiable wellness claims – and recognise the reality that many hundreds of thousands of people use hemp-derived CBD for wellness and health purposes.
  • Ensure that the FCA’s guidance on allowing cannabis-related companies to float on the LSE continues unencumbered.
  • Reform the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to ensure it is fit for the UK’s legal medicinal cannabis market.
  • Ensure the application of the Novel Food Regulations to cannabis-related medicines does not impinge upon smaller market participants.
  • Reassess the NICE guidelines.
  • Allow General Practitioners to be primary prescribers of medicinal cannabis.
  • The Government should conduct or contract for a proper and thorough health economic analysis of the cost of introduction of medicinal cannabis and hemp flowering tops in the UK.

The report reads: “We encourage the Government to give these Recommendations serious consideration, review the whole medicinal cannabis scene and assist this new industry, with huge potential economic benefit, to grow and develop in the UK.”

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