Need for societal-level discussion about medical cannabis, expert says – The Pharma Letter
New data from a survey of patients prescribed medical cannabis to treat pain shows that 86% found it to be more effective than other medication that they had previously taken.
Medical Cannabis Clinics announced the data on the drug, which was legalized for medicinal use in the UK in November 2018, albeit that access is still limited.
The company, which comprises of UK-based clinics specializing in innovative cannabis-based therapies, claims that these data bolster current arguments for the drug’s potential over other existing treatment options, highlighting it as a potential solution to the opioid crisis.
Evidence ‘growing year-on-year’
Sunny Nayee, medical director of The Medical Cannabis Clinics and one of the UK’s leading specialists in the field, said: “Cannabis has been used by humans as a medicine for thousands of years, but in the last few decades, research has enabled a deeper understanding of its applications.
“Research has built over the past two-to-three years, demonstrating that medical cannabis is an efficacious and well-tolerated option for people with chronic pain. Recognition at a European level through the European Pain Federation summarizes the evidence, which is growing year-on-year as we see more and more patients demonstrate successful outcomes.”
Usage in the UK has really taken off, with nearly 10,000 patients being prescribed medical cannabis across all therapy areas.
“I have seen the positive effects of medical cannabis in many patients over this time, as have many of my colleagues,” Dr Nayee said. “Within chronic pain, I have seen patients lives transformed by access to medical cannabis when they desperately needed help and had felt they had run out of options.”
Progress slowed by past associations
Preliminary results were released in May from independent research group Project Twenty21, which is collecting the UK’s largest body of medical cannabis evidence. The data showed that the treatment improved quality of life by more than 50% in patients with a range of medical conditions, with the majority being treated for chronic pain.
This raises the question of why medicinal cannabis has only been legalized and seen as a viable option for pain patients so recently.
“It takes time for a weight of evidence to build up for a medicine to be considered safe and efficacious,” Dr Nayee said. “Previously being seen as an illicit drug only served to slow down and inhibit research into the positive effects of medical cannabis and other similar drugs.
“The significant patient unmet need has been brought to the foreground in recent years, with families’ frustration at the lack of access for their children in need of medical cannabis treatment.
“This resulted in the launch of their campaign to fight for access to these therapies, which played a key role in medical cannabis legalization and demonstrates the importance of these treatments for many patients across the UK.”
‘Remove the stigma and prescribing barriers’
The European Pain Federation says that cannabis-based medicines can be considered as third-line therapy for chronic neuropathic pain, yet remaining barriers stand in the way of medicinal cannabis being accessed more widely by patients.
Speaking of the UK experience, Dr Nayee said: “Medical cannabis is very new in the UK and there is still significant stigma faced by patients and prescribing doctors alongside a lack of National Health Service (NHS) reimbursement, which limits options for those who need it most.
“We must communicate that medical cannabis is a well-tolerated, efficacious, and regulated treatment. We need to have a societal-level discussion about the importance of caring for patients with a significant unmet need and the role of medical cannabis in doing this.
“This needs to be heard through the highest levels of the NHS and government to remove the stigma and prescribing barriers facing patients.”