UK: Doctors unwilling to prescribe medical cannabis in the knowledge that there is little evidence to stand up some of the claims – Commons Health and Social Care Committee

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Families’ hopes were unfairly raised when doctors were allowed to prescribe cannabis, a report has concluded.

The public had expected ready access to prescriptions after the law changed in November but that had not and will not happen any time soon, MPs said.

A report by the Health and Social Care Committee said that products remained unlicensed due to a lack of research. It found the government had “failed to communicate” this – leaving doctors to face a backlash, the BBC reports.

High expectations among the public of the benefits of medicinal cannabis are being disappointed because doctors are unwilling to prescribe it in the knowledge that there is little evidence to stand up some of the claims, according to British MPs.

The Guardian reports about a House of Commons health select committee inquiry saying that “the hopes of patients and families were raised when the government agreed to reschedule medicinal cannabis to make it more available in the light of “the distressing cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell” – two children with severe epilepsy whose parents said only the drug gave them respite from seizures.”

But adequate clinical trials to prove the effects of medicinal cannabis in epilepsy and other conditions have not been carried out. Without that evidence, few doctors are willing to write a prescription.

Mike Power writes in an op-ed on The Guardian that sellers in the UK are careful not to claim any specific medical benefits for the products because of a lack of clinical evidence, so they are instead marketed as food supplements. In this, they are supported by breathless, uncritical media reports on CBD use for airily unspecified “wellbeing” purposes.

There is now no denying the medicinal value of CBD and THC – not even by the British government, which for years maintained that lie even as it rubberstamped the cultivation and export of the world’s largest medicinal cannabis crop.

Clinical trials have found that a number of patients with epilepsy become seizure-free on medical grade CBD, however this only happens to roughly 5% of patients – which naturally becomes the focus of news stories. The other side of the coin is that some patients in these trials drop out either because they felt no improvement or were experiencing side-effects.

The Royal College of Physicians told the committee that “there is a perception that CBMPs [cannabis-based medicinal products] work in areas where there is little or no evidence and some patients feel they are being denied access to an efficacious drug”.

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the health and social care committee, said: “Although the recent changes to government policy were welcomed, there was a failure to communicate what this would mean in practice for the availability of medicinal cannabis.

“Expectations were unfairly raised that these products would become widely and readily available, and there needs to be far clearer communication that this is not the case.”

Via BBC / The Guardian / House of Commons

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