This site is intended for health professionals only

GPs report increase in patients asking for medicinal cannabis and low-carb diets

GPs have seen a significant increase in the number of patients requesting medicinal cannabis, according to new research.

The study surveyed over 2,000 GPs and other primary care staff and found that 61% of GP partners reported an increase in medicinal cannabis queries, while 43% and 64% also said low-carb diet and vitamin D queries had increased respectively.

The report, released today by Cogora – the company which publishes Pulse and sister titles Healthcare Leader, Management in Practice, Nursing in Practice Pulse and The Pharmacist – is the sixth annual analysis of the state of primary care.

It involved surveying Pulse and sister publication readers at the end of last year, on subjects such as workload, job pressures, clinical trends, morale, and the impact of Brexit.

It found a ‘massive’ 61% of GP partners saw an increase in the numbers of patients asking about cannabis-containing medicine.

It said: ‘Although GPs will not be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis, they are at the coalface and already fielding questions from expectant patients.’

‘These findings are interesting, given that the regulatory changes only came into force in November – at the very end of the 12-month period the survey covers.’

Last November, a new law was brought in by home secretary Sajid Javid which means specialists – but not GPs – are allowed to prescribe cannabis to patients whose clinical needs cannot be met by licensed products.

At the time, the BMA GP Committee asked the Government to make it clear to the public that these products will not be prescribed by GPs, warning that even before the law was announced, the rumour of a regulatory change led to GP appointments being wasted by people asking about its availability.

The survey also reported that 43% of GP partners said enquiries relating to low-carb diets had increased in 2018, while 38% of salaried GPs were fielding more enquiries on the topic.

Low-carb diets for treating diabetes have gained a lot of attention recently. 

Last July, the RCGP launched a new GP training module on low-carb diets for diabetes patients.

And earlier this year, the Low Carb Program app – which allows patients with type 2 diabetes to log and change their lifestyle habits – received a funding boost through an NHS bursary programme, to allow it to be used more widely across the health service.

The report also highlighted that GPs were reporting increasing vitamin D requests, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of GP partners saying they dealt with more enquires from patients in 2018 than they had previously.

Just 10% said fewer patients had asked about vitamin D, and one-quarter (24%) reporting that the number of enquiries had stayed the same and the rest being unsure.

Among salaried GPs, just over half (53%) said enquiries had increased, while one-third (33%) reported no difference.

This comes after Public Health England told everyone in the UK that they should take daily vitamin D during autumn and winter, back in 2016.

Vitamin D prescribing has been increasing for years. A Pulse investigation previously revealed that between 2012 and 2016, prescribing of the vitamin by GPs rose by 40%, with the annual cost of £85m in 2016.

The Cogora survey was open from 29 November to 20 December 2018 inclusive. Cogora offered all respondents the chance to win a £250 John Lewis voucher as an incentive to complete the survey. Cogora invited people to complete the survey through newsletters sent directly to each publication’s readers, and by way of advertisements on the publications’ website home pages. It was also promoted through the publications’ social media channels. There were 2,885 responses in total.


Visit Pulse Reference for details on 140 symptoms, including easily searchable symptoms and categories, offering you a free platform to check symptoms and receive potential diagnoses during consultations.