Six in 10 NHS Trusts not prescribing any cannabis medicines
Over six in 10 NHS Foundation Trusts in England (61%) say they did not prescribe any cannabis-based prescription medicines in 2021, according to new research from the Cannabis Industry Council (CIC).
The study also found that the NHS prescribed cannabis-based medicines to just 977 individuals in 2021. This equates to just nine individuals prescribed a cannabis-based medicine per NHS Trust.
Separate research has previously found just three NHS patients have been prescribed ‘full spectrum’ cannabis products, which contain all the beneficial compounds found naturally in the plant. This is despite there being over 20,000 patients receiving ‘full spectrum’ products privately.
The findings come despite cannabis being legal as a prescription medicine since 2018. Although cannabis-based medicines can be prescribed for any condition, including chronic pain and anxiety, in practice the rules and guidelines make such a scenario implausible.
Cannabis Industry Council CEO Mike Morgan-Giles commented:
“These shocking findings from the Cannabis Industry Council highlight how the NHS in England is failing to help tens of thousands of patients with serious and life threatening conditions.
“There is growing evidence of how cannabis can help patients with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and even cancer. The CIC would like to see people put first, with GPs being allowed to prescribe cannabis, as they are best-placed to support their patients.”
Furthermore, the research from the CIC also found that just 201 children were prescribed a cannabis-based medicine on the NHS in 2021. This is despite compelling evidence of how it can change the lives of children with conditions such as epilepsy.
Cannabis Industry Council Patient Representative Matt Hughes added:
“These statistics clearly display an unwillingness to prescribe cannabis-based medicines within the NHS. There is an unmet clinical need for a number of chronic conditions where cannabis has been clinically proven to be of benefit.
“At a time of economic struggle, patients are forced to seek treatment privately at significant cost. For many they simply cannot afford to do so, forced to seek access from illicit sources and risk criminalising themselves.
“The NHS can do far more to improve education in this area of medicine, funding mechanisms for unlicensed medicines and support clinicians in prescribing. They have to do better for patients.”
Despite the NHS having the right to prescribe any cannabis product, in practice just three – Sativex, Epidyolex and Nabilone – are licensed for a limited number of conditions. This leaves tens of thousands of people having to obtain their medicine outside of the legal market, or being forced to seek private prescriptions.
Additionally, only NHS consultants can initiate prescription of cannabis products, despite other doctors, particularly GPs, indicating they would be willing to do so. The CIC would like the rules changed to allow GPs to prescribe cannabis to their patients.
There is cross-party political support for change, with over 130 MPs backing the wider prescribing of cannabis by the medical profession.
About the research
The Cannabis Industry Council conducted a freedom of information request on 152 NHS Foundation Trusts in England. 105 Trusts (69%) replied between 18 October and 23 November 2022.