• MPs have been told British doctors have a lack of knowledge on medical cannabis
  • Experts believe this is why so few medical cannabis prescriptions have been granted
  • Professor Mike Barnes told the Government doctors “do not understand the nature of cannabis”

MPs have been told that doctors are not prescribing medical cannabis to patients due to their lack of knowledge on the subject.

Medical cannabis was legalised in November 2018, allowing specialist practitioners to prescribe medical cannabis to patients who cannot be treated by conventional, pharmaceutical medications.

Despite this change to the law, experts told the Health and Social Care Committee in March that patients are still fighting to gain legal access to cannabis because medical professionals “do not understand the nature of cannabis.”

Medical cannabis expert and Chair of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians’ Society, Professor Mike Barnes, explained to the committee that ignorance is at the heart of the problem:

“The main barrier, to be honest, is education.

“There are bureaucratic barriers, but I think they can be overcome.

“I think most doctors do not want to prescribe because they do not understand the nature of cannabis.

“They do not understand what dose to give or in what format to give it.’

Professor Barnes also told the Committee how the reforms to laws concerning cannabis were ‘too restrictive,’ impacting patients in a negative manner:

“The second barrier is the guidelines.

“I am sure that the Royal College of Physicians and the British Paediatric Neurology Association felt they were doing a good job in providing those guidelines.

“Personally, I think they are too restrictive, rather negative and focused on double-blind placebo-controlled studies, as we have heard, so I think producing guidelines that are a little bit more balanced is necessary.”

I think most doctors do not want to prescribe because they do not understand the nature of cannabis.
– Professor Mike Barnes, Chair of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians’ Society

Barnes’ concerns were echoed by Committee member, Dr Philippa Whitford, who highlighted the reluctance doctors have to respond to a patient request for a medical cannabis prescription.

Using her own personal experience as a reference, Dr Whitford argued that doctor’s reluctance stems from a fear based on the personal financial risks they take when prescribing unlicensed drugs:

“One of the problems is licensing, and the issue of doctors prescribing unlicensed drugs and the personal financial risk they have to take.

“I have signed the form many times myself and it has very scary wording.

“Surely, regardless of getting through the NICE process, getting it licensed would be the key step.”

While it is clear that a degree of general ignorance exists within the British medical professional concerning medical cannabis, it is unclear how to solve the problem.

Some have argued that more clinical research is needed to provide conclusive evidence for the safety and efficacy of cannabis for certain medical conditions. Clinical trials, however, can take years, leaving patients requiring medical cannabis in an ever increasingly desperate situation.

Evidence already exists from a plethora of clinical trials conducted in countries with more liberal approaches to the use of medical cannabis.

Should our political class not engage with these countries, working with them to get the best understanding of cannabis and its medicinal applications, helping to provide the best healthcare possible for our citizens?

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