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Are you looking up how to get medical cannabis in the UK? If you are then you're in the right place. Discover how to get an affordable prescription. Mother of Alfie Dingley says parents are despondent at lack of access to full-extract oil

How To Get A Prescription For Medical Cannabis In The UK

Did you know that just 6.5% of all cannabis-based medicines prescribed in 2019 were filled out via the NHS?

Coming the year after the law changed to allow doctors to legally prescribe cannabis medicines, the change in mindset for many specialist doctors moved much slower than the law.

Even now over two years on, the estimated number of prescriptions on the NHS is still believed to be in the low hundreds, while around 1.4 million people in the UK are using cannabis to treat their own medical conditions.

However, according to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, cannabis is a Class B drug and so cannot be legally used without a prescription.

Remember that police forces may get involved if they find you buying cannabis illegally, no matter what the purpose.

Many NHS doctors are still cautious to prescribe medical cannabis, despite the overwhelming evidence from clinical trials for a variety of medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.

This is largely due to guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which continue to state that there is a lack of evidence to support NHS cannabis prescriptions, despite such treatment working for thousands of people across the UK.

Nonetheless, the reality for many is that NHS prescriptions are not a realistic avenue to explore cannabis-based medicines.

Instead, many across the country are turning to private medical cannabis clinics to offer cost-effective cannabis medicines within a timeframe that works for them.

What are the rules around cannabis prescriptions?

Medical cannabis refers to any medication that contains cannabis and has been legal for specialist doctors to prescribe since November 2018.

This means that GPs cannot fill out a cannabis prescription, but they can refer patients to the right medical professional in order to do so if they agree that a prescription is the right course of action.

These decisions are still largely made on a case-by-case basis. By law, a medical cannabis prescription can only be given out “when the patient has an unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products”.

That means that patients will need to pursue other forms of treatment before being able to try prescribed medical cannabis. Products such as CBD or hemp oil can be sold legally as food supplements and are not subject to the same laws as medical cannabis.

How to get medical cannabis in the UK

For many people in the UK, the only realistic way to access cannabis for medical purposes is through a private prescription. Finding a clinic that suits you should therefore be your first step.

How to fund a private cannabis prescription

Of course, private medical clinics are not always financially accessible to everyone. Nonetheless, efforts are being made to provide everyone who needs it with access to cannabis at a cost that they can afford.

For example, Project Twenty21 allows eligible patients to access treatment at a capped price. In return, the effects of the treatment will be tracked by Drug Science and go on to provide evidence for NHS funding of cannabis treatment.

Many clinics across the UK have partnered with Project Twenty21 in order to make medical cannabis as easily accessible as possible. It’s hoped that the data collected from Drug Science will also help to change NICE’s guidelines and make cannabis-based medicines more widely available in the future.

What to expect from your appointment

When you first talk with someone from a medical cannabis clinic, you will be asked to share access to your medical records. This is to ensure that you have a condition that entitles you to a cannabis prescription and enables the medical professionals to find the right program for you down the line.

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To speed up the process, it’s a good idea to contact your GP ahead of time and request a copy of your Summary Care Record (SCR), which includes, at a minimum:

  • Any current medication(s)
  • Allergies and details of any previous bad reactions to medicines
  • Your name, address, date of birth, and NHS number

If a diagnosis of the condition that entitles you to a cannabis prescription is not included in your SCR, you can also request a referral letter from your GP. The key requirement is that you must provide a confirmed diagnosis of one or more qualifying conditions. If you are uncertain about any part of this, the clinic will likely be able to assist you.

Once your medical records have been shared, you will need to require a consultation with someone from your chosen clinic. This will either be in person or via a video call and your consultant will conduct an assessment with you.

Questions within the assessment will cover what treatments you might have tried in the past, why they haven’t worked, what symptoms from your condition you are experiencing, and how your condition is affecting your life day-to-day.

The consultant will also likely ask if you’ve used cannabis for medicinal purposes before and what the effects were. All of these questions are to identify whether cannabis is the right course of action for you.

In some cases, your case may also be presented and discussed with a multidisciplinary team, to get a full sense of how the treatment may affect you and your condition moving forward. Remember that you have the right for anything you discussed to be left off your records if you would like to.

This is not only the time for your consultant to get to know you but also for you to get to know your chosen clinic. If you have any concerns, questions, or fears about the process or about your cannabis prescription in general, this is the time to ask them.

It’s a good idea to take notes throughout your consultation so that you have all the information discussed to hand later on. Lots of topics may be discussed, so it’s easy to forget some points later on.

Getting medical cannabis on Project Twenty21

Project Twenty21 is an initiative designed to allow eligible patients to access treatment at a capped price. In return, the effects of the treatment will be tracked by Drug Science and go on to provide evidence for NHS funding of cannabis treatment.

Many clinics, including The Medical Cannabis Clinics, across the UK, have partnered with Project Twenty21 in order to make medical cannabis as easily accessible as possible. It’s hoped that the data collected from Drug Science will also help to change NICE’s guidelines and make cannabis-based medicines more widely available in the future.

With Project Twenty21, different clinics charge different prices, ranging from £90 – £200 for an Initial Consultation and a Follow-up Consultation costs between £60 – £150. At The Medical Cannabis Clinics, we believe that everyone eligible should be able to get access to the medication they need, and so aim to keep costs as low as possible for our patients and only charge £90 for an initial consultation. Follow-up consultations are charged at £65.

Can I get a prescription for medical cannabis?

Cannabis can help to treat symptoms for a wide range of conditions. The private sector still adheres to the same laws as the NHS, and so can prescribe cannabis-based products for specific conditions, including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Epilepsy
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
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These are to name just a few. You can find a full list of the conditions that are eligible for a medical cannabis prescription here or talk to your GP to see if you can get a referral letter. You are required to have tried two other forms of medication in order to be eligible for this treatment option.

Can a private doctor prescribe cannabis?

Cannabis prescriptions are currently most often provided through private clinics than via any other means in the UK. It’s often the faster way to get a medical cannabis prescription.

You can book an appointment with a specialist now through The Medical Cannabis Clinics in just a few minutes. Appointments start from just £70 and, once you’ve had a consultation with your doctor, you can receive your prescription at a local pharmacy of your choice. If you have any questions about how to get medical cannabis in the UK, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our Patient Advisors.

Frequently asked questions

How much does medical cannabis cost in the UK?

Although the cost of medical cannabis does of course vary from person to person, depending on their condition and dose, the cost of a monthly dose starts from £75 to £120 per 10 grams at The Medical Cannabis Clinics. Medication is usually prescribed in doses of around 1 gram per day, 7 grams per week, and 30 grams per month, on average.

Where does medical cannabis come from in the UK?

Medical cannabis must be sourced from licensed producers according to UK law. Different brands of medical cannabis may source their products from different locations, often from countries in the EU and Africa.

Can anyone get medical cannabis on prescription in the UK?

You can only get medical cannabis on prescription in the UK if you have a specific eligible condition. The people most likely to be prescribed medical cannabis on the NHS are children and adults with rare, severe forms of epilepsy, adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy, and people with muscle stiffness and spasms caused by MS. Eligible patients must also have sought other forms of treatment previously.

Can I apply for medical cannabis in the UK?

If you have been diagnosed with one of these qualifying conditions , you may be able to apply for medical cannabis in the UK. The first step is to speak to your GP and see if they will refer you to a specialist doctor or book a consultation with a private medical cannabis clinic.

Can you get medical cannabis in the UK?

If you are eligible, you will be able to discuss a treatment plan with a specialist doctor or medical cannabis clinic consultant to find the right dose for you and your condition.

Who qualifies for medical cannabis?

You must have a qualifying condition, including a number of pain conditions, neurological conditions, psychiatric conditions, gastroenterological conditions, side effects from cancer treatment, and more. You must also have sought treatment from other means.

No new NHS patients prescribed cannabis oil since legalisation

There have been no new NHS prescriptions for full-extract cannabis oil since the medicinal use of the drug was legalised more than 18 months ago, the Guardian has established.

Wealthier families and those who can successfully raise funds pay about £2,000 a month to access full-leaf cannabis medicines via private prescription for children with rare forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy, while poorer parents are unable to afford the prescriptions.

Experts say that, despite the drug’s legality, rigid prescribing guidelines for doctors set by the British Paediatric Neurological Association – which cite a lack of clinical research and reference disputed theories about the mental health effects of cannabis – make getting hold of the medicine on the NHS difficult in practice.

A freedom of information (FoI) request to the NHS business services authority confirmed there were no new prescriptions for the oil in England between its legalisation and the end of February. There is understood to have been no change since.

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On the NHS, full-extract cannabis oil imported from the Netherlands has continued to be prescribed to just two children with rare forms of epilepsy, Alfie Dingley and Sophia Gibson, who both received emergency interim licences from the Home Office in summer 2018 following high-profile campaigning.

“The government’s medical cannabis legislation has been a disaster,” said Hannah Deacon, the mother of eight-year-old Alfie, who used to have up to 500 life-threatening seizures a month but can now ride his bike and go to school – with his seizures hugely reduced.

“If you look at the children who have been given it privately, they are doing extremely well. It’s just terribly cruel and incredibly unfair that we should benefit and other children cannot.”

Deacon has written to every member of the cabinet to express the “abject despondency” parents feel due to the lack of access, after their hopes were raised by legalisation, with thousands of children enduring hundreds of serious seizures a month which it is hoped could be dramatically eased with medicinal cannabis.

She has received just one reply so far, from the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, who, in a letter addressing her as “Bridget”, began by saying that cannabis use was detrimental to the mental and physical health of communities.

Prof David Nutt, the former government drugs adviser who is behind Twenty21, a large medical registry now providing free full-extract cannabis oil to patients in the UK suffering from a variety of conditions, to address the block on prescribing, said there was “mounting real-world evidence” of the efficacy of medical cannabis.

“I suspect many doctors are afraid of cannabis after years of fear-mongering and just want to be spoon-fed by the pharmaceutical industry,” he said.

With the growing demand from patients unmet by the NHS, there have been at least 313 private prescriptions for unlicensed cannabis-based medicine items, including full-extract oil, since legalisation in November 2018, the FoI data showed.

Full-extract oil contains both THC, the psychoactive part of cannabis that remains illegal for recreational use, and CBD, which is now commonly sold on high streets. Many believe oils including both cannabinoids are most effective in vastly reducing, and even precluding, seizures due to a synergetic so-called entourage effect.

Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, pointed to Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and Canada, where full-extract oil is available through public healthcare systems, and said the UK system was not designed to deal with multi-component plant-based medicines.

“Unless some kind of bespoke regulatory framework can be found that reduces barriers to access, the more risky scenario of unregulated self-medication with illegally sourced supplies will continue,” he said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We sympathise with those patients dealing so courageously with challenging conditions.

“Since the law changed, two cannabis-based medicines have been made available for prescribing on the NHS for patients with multiple sclerosis or hard-to-treat epilepsies, where clinically appropriate. This follows clear demonstrated evidence of their safety, clinical and cost effectiveness. We have also changed how we regulate imports to improve supply and reduce costs.

“However, more evidence is needed to routinely prescribe and fund other treatments on the NHS. We continue to work with the health system, industry and researchers to improve the evidence base and identify what more we can do to minimise the cost of these medicines for patients, NHS or private.”

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