New study shows public awareness of medical cannabis still lagging behind – four years on from the change in law

A new study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research reveals that a significant proportion of the population (48.6%) are still unaware that medical cannabis is available on prescription from a specialist prescriber on the General Medical Council’s Specialist Register and has been since 1st November 20181.  This news comes on the four-year anniversary of the change in legislation and regulations governing medical cannabis. Since that landmark decision, thousands of patients in the UK have had access to medial cannabis for a range of treatment resistant conditions.

The paper, authored by experts at Sapphire Medical Clinics, provides an in-depth analysis of responses from over 10,000 UK adults as part of a YouGov poll which aimed to assess the public awareness of the availability, regulations, and barriers to access medical cannabis.

The most frequently reported main barriers to accessing medical cannabis were its association with recreational cannabis (25.1%), being unsure if it was legal (21.3%) and being unsure what medical conditions it can be prescribed for (17.4%). The research paper concludes that this lack of knowledge may present a barrier to safe access.

 

Dr Simon Erridge, Head of Access and Research at Sapphire Medical Clinics says, “Since the overhaul of the scheduling restrictions around medical cannabis four years ago, we’ve made significant strides in terms of improving access for patients. A large part of this has been Sapphire Clinics being focused on bringing down the costs of consultations, as well as providing a platform to robustly evaluate the evidence on outcomes for patients prescribed medical cannabis in real-world settings. Patients enrolling on the Sapphire Access Scheme can contribute directly to the UK Medical Cannabis Registry which now boasts a database of over 6,000 patients.

“This four-year milestone allows us to reflect on the progress that’s been made. The study suggests that whilst this regulatory change facilitated a route to access medical cannabis through appropriate specialists, it has failed to become widely available through the UK’s single-payer healthcare system, the National Health Service. The barriers to access are likely multifactorial and consist of stigma, a paucity of high-quality randomised controlled trials, and a lack of awareness and education amongst healthcare professionals and patients.”

As part of Medical Cannabis Awareness Week (Tuesday 1st – Monday 7th November), Dr Erridge will be part of an online panel event “Barriers to access” on Thursday 3rd November, speaking alongside other expert groups including patient advocacy group PLEA (Patient-Led Engagement for Access).