According to recently made public data from the UK medical system, Devon’s general practitioners have written hundreds of prescriptions for medical cannabis in the last five years. This information has come to light amid rising charitable calls for improved access to medical cannabis for people with autoimmune and neurological conditions.
Medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and chronic pain can all be effectively treated with drugs made from cannabis plants or synthetic cannabinoids. Despite their potential benefits, these therapies can be expensive, and there are conflicting views on their effectiveness among doctors.
However, the rise in Devon’s medical marijuana prescriptions indicates the drug’s acceptance as a valid treatment option. It is hoped that access to these treatments will increase for those in need as more research is done and awareness of the potential advantages of medical cannabis rises.
Although the cost of these treatments can be high, different medical professionals have different views on their efficacy.
Increased Prescription Rate
Dronabinol and cannabidiol are combined in the most widely prescribed cannabis drug, Sativex, which is especially effective in treating multiple sclerosis. The number of prescriptions for the medication has significantly increased. According to data from the NHS OpenPrescribing service, 183 prescriptions were written by GPs in 2022, up from just 72 the previous year.
This increased prescription rate equates to an astonishing 52,650 doses of the drug being administered, more than twice the doses prescribed in the previous year. This increase in usage demonstrates the rising acceptance of medical marijuana as a valid treatment option, particularly for ailments like MS, where conventional therapies have failed.
Recent data shows that GPs wrote 303 prescriptions for cannabis-based medications in the former NHS Devon CCG region in the last five years. These drugs primarily treat particular forms of multiple sclerosis and contain the cannabis plant’s active compounds, cannabidiol, and tetrahydrocannabinol.
Although cannabidiol (CBD) is widely available on UK high streets, these medications are only occasionally prescribed. However, patients are advised to use caution when choosing a CBD product because the quality and potency of these products can differ significantly.
THC-containing substances, on the other hand, are still illegal in the UK unless they are used for a limited range of medical conditions. Despite the legal restrictions, the rise in the number of cannabis-based prescriptions suggests that healthcare providers are starting to understand the potential advantages of these treatments.
It is important to note that the reported numbers do not reflect the total number of patients but rather the number of prescriptions written by doctors. As a result, a single patient may have received a drug prescription more than once a year.
Hospitals also can dispense prescription medication directly to patients. Research conducted by the MS Society charity indicates that over half of all Sativex prescriptions are provided through secondary care facilities. This suggests that hospitals are critical in facilitating access to cannabis-based medications, particularly for patients with complex medical needs.
Recent data from across England indicates that in 2022, GPs issued 2,953 prescriptions for Sativex and other similar drugs. This marks a significant 56% increase from the previous year when only 1,893 medications were prescribed.
More Nationwide Campaign
The MS Society has played a crucial role in the campaign to increase Sativex’s availability to those who could use it. Even though more medications are available, some healthcare organizations still need to be more willing to pay for them, restricting access for those who need it.
Sativex, which reduces symptoms like stiffness and muscle spasms that can significantly lower a person’s quality of life, can, according to the MS Society, have a life-altering impact on people with the condition. The continued resistance to funding the drug highlights the ongoing challenges in promoting cannabis-based treatments in mainstream healthcare.
Meanwhile, in 2022, there were only 23 GP prescriptions for medications based on cannabidiol (CBD) across the country. These treatments are primarily used for treatment-resistant epilepsy; none were prescribed in the Devon area. The NHS has been cautious about prescribing these medications, citing a lack of proof of their efficacy and their high price as justifications.
Nonetheless, increased access to medicinal cannabis has received strong support from the nonprofit organization Epilepsy Action, especially for people whose seizures are resistant to other treatments. The availability of medical cannabis can, in these circumstances, make a “massive difference” in reducing seizures, significantly enhancing the quality of life for those with epilepsy, according to Daniel Jennings, senior policy and campaigns officer at the charity.
Nevertheless, access to these treatments through the NHS is still restricted despite mounting evidence in favor of medical cannabis for treating epilepsy. Due to this lack of access, nearly 90,000 private prescriptions for cannabis-based medications were written between 2018 and 2022. The high prices of private medicines can be a significant financial burden for patients who need these treatments, making them unavailable to many.
Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid medication, is available and is primarily used to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy, like nausea and vomiting. Recent statistics show that GPs in England prescribed this medication 371 times last year. Despite being effective in treating the side effects of chemotherapy, this medication is still only occasionally used.
Only 48 Nabilone prescriptions have been issued in the former NHS Devon CCG region since 2018, with none being prescribed in the past year. This low use rate could be attributed to factors like ignorance or lack of access to the drug and divergent views among medical experts regarding the efficacy of cannabinoid-based treatments.
There is no denying that medical cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids have the potential to enhance many patients’ quality of life, even though their use for the treatment of various conditions is still up for debate and further investigation. Patients and advocacy groups continue to fight for greater access to these treatments despite obstacles like limited availability, high costs, and divergent views among medical professionals.
It is hoped that the medical community and regulatory bodies will continue to investigate the potential advantages of medical cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids and work toward making these treatments more widely accessible to those who could benefit from them as more research is conducted and more success stories appear. Even though the road ahead may be difficult and long, the potential rewards are too great to ignore.
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