November 9, 2023

Behind the leaf: 5 medical cannabis myths debunked


Founder of the UK Cannabis Social Clubs, Greg is considered an expert on all things cannabis. Greg campaigned for the medical cannabis laws we now operate under appearing on the BBC, in The Times, Telegraph and has been published in the British Medical Journal.

fact checked

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We've finally reached five years since medical cannabis was legalised in the UK. While there is much to celebrate about, there is much to reflect on and still more ground to gain. One thing that is lagging in the UK is greater awareness about medical cannabis legality and availability. Access is there for anyone who can afford it - but consumer understanding of access is limited. In early 2023, Releaf investigated the knowledge of the UK population with a survey about medical cannabis, where we discovered that only 34% of the population knew British citizens could get a medical cannabis prescription delivered through their letterbox via a private doctor. Advertising laws for medical cannabis companies are tightly controlled and fairly restrictive, leaving patient numbers in the UK far lower than in countries with similar policies, such as Germany and Australia. 

Just as the masses don't yet know about the latest political status of medical cannabis, many of the old myths around this prohibited plant remain, casting doubt in the minds of people who are just discovering that, yes, it's true - cannabis is legal.

Here are 5 common myths relating to medical cannabis’ status as a legally prescribed medicine.

Myth 1: You can't be prescribed cannabis flower

Medical cannabis flowers make up the majority of prescriptions that UK private specialist doctors have written. With that in mind, it is hard to dispute that cannabis flowers aren't being prescribed in the UK. 

There have been over 121 different cannabis flower products prescribed in the past five years by over 69 different suppliers. 

Cannabis flowers must be vaporised through a device that heats the ground-up flower material to a set temperature, allowing the cannabinoids and terpenes to be inhaled when the warm air passes over it. Flowers are a popular choice for doctors to prescribe thanks to the rapid onset of effects that help to reduce pain, inflammation, nausea and other forms of symptom relief. The symptom relief from inhaled THC lasts around two to four hours with very few side effects.

Depending on the individual, patients can be prescribed anywhere between 10g of flowers per month up to 120g. 

Myth 2: Medical cannabis strains aren't the same

Medical cannabis strains often have two names. The traditional name and the pharmaceutical name. Much of the medical cannabis produced for sale in the UK is grown in other countries with dual markets, such as Canada, that can sell to both patients and recreational consumers. This is down to local laws that allow adults to buy cannabis from licenced outlets when they provide proof of age. Traditional cannabis names may be slightly "out there" and not very medical sounding, so clinics often reassign a name to them to help distinguish the difference that it is intended for prescription use. 

The truth is the same strains that are used recreationally are prescribed medically. It is the conditions and permissions they are grown in, along with their cleanliness and purity, that make them suitable for medical use. Oh, as well as being prescribed and monitored by a specialist doctor. 

Myth 3: Medical cannabis is only CBD

"It probably doesn’t contain the part that gets you high" is a statement occasionally made upon learning that medical cannabis is now legal in the UK. The majority of medical cannabis prescriptions are for high-THC products (and it's THC that produces the ‘high’). CBD is not actually a scheduled substance, which is why there are so many CBD products available on the market. THC, however, remains a Schedule 2 substance requiring a greater level of control and regulation regarding where it is stored, how it is prescribed and who to use. Doctors prescribe THC in controlled low doses to treat specific conditions and control symptoms. Drug Science T21 study, which has been collecting data and following UK patients’ journeys with medical cannabis, has revealed that fewer than 1% of patients prescribed high THC products have reported negative side effects.

Much like the CBD oils that are available on the high street and in supermarkets, THC oils are prescribed in varying doses and even a range of THC : CBD ratios. Most pharmacies offer standardised dose tinctures, but there is the possibility to have bespoke ratios made up for individual patients at an additional cost. 

Myth 4: Medical cannabis is really expensive

When medical cannabis was first legalised and newly available, the cost to private patients was astronomical. The NHS will still only prescribe licensed cannabis-based medicinal products or reimburse prescription fees under very special circumstances, so the burden of cost is completely on the patient. 

Five years since the legislation came into force, however, the cost is almost on par with traditional cannabis pricing. The cost of an appointment has been reduced, allowing not all but a greater number of patients to access a legal prescription. Flower varieties are available for £5 a gram, but equally, varieties are charged at £12 a gram. There is a quality scale associated with the price. 

When looking at the total cost of the appointments, prescriptions and delivery fees, it is possible for patients to use a gram per day for around £200, depending on which products are prescribed. Releaf+ is a subscription package that covers all your monthly prescription costs in one simple price. See here if you are eligible for a medical cannabis prescription. 

Myth 5: Medical cannabis is only available for children with epilepsy

On the contrary, children with epilepsy are still struggling to find specialist doctors who are willing to prescribe medical cannabis, because many are unwilling, or uncomfortable with the idea of prescribing to children. In fact, most private cannabis clinics will not prescribe to patients under 18 years old, meaning the majority of the 30,000 patients are adults. 

The confusion comes from information in the mainstream media; when the change in law was being campaigned for, epileptic children were in the spotlight. Their situation highlighted them as some of the most vulnerable patients who needed access to safe and regulated medicines with the oversight of a medical professional. The story of struggle told by their families helped gain the support of the British public.

The NHS will only prescribe to children with severe seizure disorders, such as Dravets Syndrome, in children who have up to 100 seizures a day, and no other medication is helping. 

With only one medication licensed for treating these disorders (Epidyolex), it doesn't provide doctors with many options. Less than a handful have been willing to prescribe to children, despite over 200 children with urgent needs being identified. Different cannabis oil preparations are available that are high in CBD (the antiseizure molecule) that also contain varying amounts of THC. Because no clinical studies have been conducted on these preparations for paediatric seizure disorders, there is very little evidence on effective dosage sizes, how frequently it should be administered, and what the adverse effects might be. Parents of children with childhood seizure disorders have very few options among the available private cannabis clinics.

Releaf understands that finding a doctor who is registered to prescribe medical cannabis can be difficult. That's why we offer online consultations with our specialist doctors, as well as a unique medical cannabis card for extra protection and access to the treatment you need. If you're interested in learning more about our services or getting access to medical cannabis treatment, get in touch and one of our team members will be happy to help.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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