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A LACK of access to prescriptions for medicinal cannabis is delaying potential health benefits for people with serious ill health, campaigners claim.

Of the 8.84m adults who bought cannibidiol – better known as CBD – in the last year, just over two-thirds said they did so to ease pain, according to a survey. And 32% were using it as an aleternative treatment for a diagnosed serious medical condition.

The UK is one of the 39 countries in the world which have now legalised or partially legalised the use of medicinal cannabis – a broad term for any sort of cannabis-based medicine used to relive symptoms.

Following a high-profile campaign by the families of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, both children who suffer from epilepsy, the law was changed in November 2018 to allow access to medical cannabis under prescription.

But since then, very few patients have been prescribed medicinal cannabis on the NHS, and most NHS Trusts refuse to prescribe whole-plant cannabis medicine.

GPs unaware

In Germany, 25,000 medicinal cannabis prescriptions were issued in September 2020, compared to just 250 in the UK.

Overinflated claims by some CBD traders, uncertainty and lack of knowledge among GPs, and limited scientific evidence have all contributed to the small number of prescriptions issued.

Medicinal cannabis is only likely to be prescribed to children and adults with rare severe forms of epilepsy, some adults undergoing chemotherapy, and people with muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, the NHS says.

According to the official NHS website, “there is some evidence medical cannabis can help certain types of pain, though this evidence is not yet strong enough to recommend it for pain relief”.

Epidyolex, a pure cannabidiol, can be prescribed for children diagnosed with two rare types of epilepsy.

Professor Trevor Jones, chair of European Medicinal Cannabis Association, said: “Our research suggests that the CBD market continues to run unchecked with vulnerable patients potentially being misled by the apparent therapeutic benefit statements made by opportunist traders.”

Prof Jones added: “The EUMCA is broadly in agreement with the UK Government’s position on medicinal cannabis prescribing, in that: The UK Government has made it legal for properly diagnosed patients to receive medicinal cannabis on the prescription of an adequately qualified medical practitioner. There is not strong enough evidence to support prescribing and general access to preparations containing THC.

“However, the EUMCA also sympathises with patients and their parents/carers who cannot wait for the results of lengthy randomised controlled trials and are unable to get medicinal cannabis prescribed and reimbursed by the NHS.

“There is a case for ‘real world studies’ as an alternative to traditional clinical trials to accelerate access to medicinal cannabis prescribing in the UK.”