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UK leaders in medical cannabis research

The UK is leading the way in medical cannabis research: Doctors present latest findings: Since 2018 doctors in the UK have been prescribing medical cannabis for several conditions, such as chronic pain, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Whilst an increasing number of patients are now receiving therapy, a critical barrier to access is a lack of the right evidence to enable the NHS to fund medical cannabis. However, thanks to the efforts of doctors and scientists the UK is now leading the way in medical cannabis research.

Doctors from Sapphire Medical Clinics presented 20 individual pieces of research at the annual International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) Annual Conference in Galway, Ireland on 25th June. They described the outcomes and safety of medical cannabis therapy in patients with a wide spectrum of disorders, including, but not limited to, chronic pain, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and childhood epilepsy.

Within this plethora of research, they will present data from the largest bespoke medical cannabis registry in Europe, the UK Medical Cannabis Registry, which has now enrolled over 5,000 patients.

This latest analysis reports the outcomes of nearly 2,833 patients with a range of conditions for which medical cannabis was prescribed since 2019. The conditions included chronic non-cancer pain, anxiety, fibromyalgia, and neuropathic pain. The average age of the patients was 42 years and 43% were women. The patients were assessed across a variety of validated metrics to assess changes in health at 1, 3, 6 and 12 months.

The researchers report: “This study, the largest observational series of patients prescribed cannabis-based medicinal products in the UK, demonstrates an association with improved general health-related quality of life up to 12 months. In addition, specific improvements in generalised anxiety and sleep quality were also observed. The majority of adverse events were mild and moderate.”

The researchers add: “Whilst randomised controlled trials are essential to determine causality, this study helps inform current clinical practice and future trials, whilst also being a fundamental component of pharmacovigilance.”

Apart from pain, the researchers presented other studies looking at medical cannabis for the treatment of palliative care, headache disorders, insomnia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and inflammatory bowel disease.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Simon Erridge, Head of Research and Access at Sapphire Medical Clinics, said: “Medical cannabis is not a panacea, and not all patients respond to therapy. However, we do know from the latest review of the literature published in the British Medical Journal of medical cannabis oils in chronic pain that they produce, on average, a 10% improvement in pain scores in patients. That may not sound a lot – but for patients where nothing else has helped, this reduction in pain is greatly valued.”

He added: “The research we are presenting at ICRS is very complementary to existing studies and helps us to further understand the long-terms effects of therapy. Most notably we have demonstrated both condition-specific and overall improvements to health-related quality of life. These outcomes are reported by patients and directly reflect changes they experience in day-to-day life.”

“Another very interesting finding that we have demonstrated through sub-group analysis is that in addition to patients who were naïve to cannabis having an overall improvement as a group, a similar effect size was also seen in those previous accessing illicit cannabis. This suggests that the quality and consistency of medical cannabis prescribed by a trained professional is an important facet of cannabis-based therapy.”

“We are pleased that through collecting, analysing, and publishing this data we are playing our part in ensuring the UK is a leader in medical cannabis research. However, randomised controlled trials are still necessary. For the UK to remain on the front foot it is important that funding bodies, such as the National Institute for Health Research, recognise the promising signals we present in our research and the potential impact these may have through committing funding towards further randomised controlled trials.”

“In the meantime, we will continue to publish the promising real-world effects seen in UK patients.”

About medical cannabis

Medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018 which has allowed cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) to be prescribed by medical experts if licensed treatments have been tried without providing adequate symptom relief. Within this framework approved by relevant regulatory authorities, Sapphire Medical’s aim is to enable safe access to medical cannabis. GPs can refer patients or patients can self-refer themselves directly to Sapphire Medical.

What is it currently approved for?

Apart from Sativex, medical cannabis treatments have been approved for adults and children with a rare form of epilepsy, and for cancer patients with nausea caused by chemotherapy. The treatments can only be approved by consultants, not family doctors.

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