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Doctors not prescribing medical cannabis due to lack of knowledge

Doctors are not prescribing medical cannabis due to a lack of knowledge on the topic, MPs have been told.

Specialist doctors have been able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients whose clinical needs cannot be met by licensed products since 1 November.

The change in law – which saw cannabis-derived medicinal products being rescheduled as schedule 2 drugs – followed a review that found evidence that medical cannabis has therapeutic benefits.

But experts told Health and Social Care Committee members last month that patients have struggled to access the drug because doctors ‘do not understand the nature of cannabis’. 

Speaking before the committee, Medical Cannabis Clinicians’ Society interim chair Professor Mike Barnes said: ‘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.’ 

‘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,’ he added.

Committee member Dr Philippa Whitford said doctors have also been reluctant to respond to patient requests due to the personal financial risks they take when prescribing unlicensed drugs. 

She said: ‘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.’

Last year, Pulse reported that the Home Office instructed a GP to stop prescribing cannabis oil to a 12-year-old boy despite being effective against his severe and uncontrollable epilepsy.

Meanwhile, a Pulse survey revealed that GPs had seen a significant increase in the number of patients requesting medicinal cannabis.


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