On 14th February 2019 Logist Pharma facilitated the first bulk import of cannabis medicines into the UK. One year on from this momentous milestone we have been spending some time speaking directly to patients, some in possession of a private prescription and others who are not.
With compliance rules limiting the ability for anyone truly in-the-know to publish specifics around pricing and few resources from which to glean a full picture of the scale of the situation regards private prescriptions, it’s a fascinating time to be talking to patients about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. The biggest take-away? That there is a huge gap between the reality of the situation and the perceptions of the public. In this article we respond to a selection of the most common questions and statements from patients…
1. “It’s legal?”
Yes! As of November 2018 all specialist doctors can prescribe cannabis medicines via the private healthcare systems. A specialist is any doctor who works in a specific disease area. These include (but are not limited to) pain specialists, neurologists, oncologists, psychiatrists and many others.
You’re doctor can learn more for themselves by clicking on our “Request Information” at the top of the page (or in the drop-down menu on certain mobile devices).
As a totally underappreciated fact, GPs can also initiate prescription. They just need a private specialist to sign off on the prescription.
2. “My doctor doesn’t approve”
Doctors shouldn’t be blamed for being conservative and it should also be recognised that there is still a lot of educational work to be done. The media narrative in the UK also often focuses on the potential harms of illicit cannabis rather than the health benefits of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis medicines, which has an effect on public perceptions. In truth, there is an ever-growing body of evidence that cannabis medicines can be an effective treatment for a number of conditions.
Cannabis medicines present a safer alternative to addictive opiates in the treatment of pain and a life-line for patients with epilepsy who haven’t responded to other medicines. We are also seeing huge benefits in patients treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and spasticity in multiple sclerosis. Importantly, there are pain conditions like central neuropathic pain or cancer pain where nothing else seems to work apart from cannabis medicines.
3. “There are clinics?!”
Yes! Patients may not be aware as these are a relatively new concept but more clinics specialising in cannabis medicines are opening all the time. At the latest count there are six different companies each setting up a range of clinics across the UK. Some are already open and prescribing and the rest are expecting to open within the next few months.
4. “It was surprisingly easy”
Those who have gone through the system for private access say it was all relatively quick and painless. Some patients have even received their medicines the next day, delivered straight to their door.
5. “It works!”
Patients who would never break the law are finding relief through legal routes of access. I spoke to one woman with fibromyalgia who had travelled to Holland to see if the advice she had been given, that cannabis might help her chronic pain, was substantial. Now with a private prescription she is in less pain and able to walk much further than before.
It is these measurable improvements in each patient’s quality of life that are truly compelling. These medicines aren’t just treating symptoms but also having a positive impact on a patients day-to-day activities.
6. “Being ‘legal’ is a relief”
Patients who have been utilising the black market, or growing their own cannabis, are often amazed at how much they have normalised their illegal activities. With a prescription in hand comes relief and a sense of acceptance. Patients often say the first thing they do is “show-off” their paperwork to previously judgemental friends or relatives. Others are packing up their growing kit and looking forward to putting their days of illegality behind them.
7. “It’s too expensive”
A fair comment. It’s sad to speak to patients who have maxed out credit cards, mortgaged houses and come to the end of the road, no longer able to afford their private prescription they are then resigned back to the black market.
… On the other hand, the vast majority of patients I’ve spoken to have resisted attempting to get a private prescription based on prices reported up to and over a year ago that are no longer representative of the reality. The inability for suppliers to advertise pricing leaves the task in the hands of patients to find out how much things have truly changed. Pharmaceutical supply chains can take time to structure and, although I can’t give any details here, I’m aware the industry as a whole is working hard to make this all work for patients.
Private prescriptions incur two costs. One for the consultation and one for the prescribed product/s. It is definitely worthwhile to shop between clinics regarding both.
8. “I’m not sure how it all works”
Again fair. This is the reason we have been working with patient groups to produce a guide for patients to access cannabis medicines through private systems. As there are more specialist clinics and providers setting up all the time, having a place to collect and collate contact details for these companies is essential. We will publish that guide in the next few weeks and, in the meantime, we are happy to take your calls or emails.
9. “Hardly anyone has a prescription”
True. Compared to the estimated 1.4M patients in the UK using cannabis for medicinal purposes, the number of prescriptions is still very small. There are hurdles in the form of regulations restricting imports, delays whilst supply chains are developed, misconceptions around pricing and a lack of guidance. Perhaps it is naive to expect things to change overnight. Or perhaps it is unacceptable that, after a year, not enough has been done to make the situation work for patients.
10. “We need NHS access”
That is the long term goal and we are working hard to develop the evidence base to enable this discussion. However it may be some years away. Meanwhile though we need to find a solution for those currently reliant on the black market and cannabis naive patients with certain conditions that would potentially benefit from this new treatment option.
If you would like to learn more about the routes for access to cannabis medicines on private prescriptions, or have any questions relating to the above article, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Our contact information is below.