BlogA UK first for medical cannabis patients: Releaf and Glass Pharms join forces to solve supply issues sustainably

A UK first for medical cannabis patients: Releaf and Glass Pharms join forces to solve supply issues sustainably

9 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Releaf and Glass PharmsⓇ join forces to solve supply issues sustainably

Announced in The Sunday Times, Releaf have made history with the launch of a range of domestically, UK-grown medical cannabis cultivars.  Releaf patient Chloe Durrington became the first person ever in the UK to receive prescribed medical cannabis flower that was grown here in the UK, by Glass Pharms®, just 200 miles from her home. 

Want to be among the first people in the UK to receive UK-grown medical cannabis on prescription? Check your eligibility here or speak to your Releaf clinician.

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Until now, when patients in the UK receive prescriptions for medical cannabis, their treatments are imported. However, due to a complex supply chain that relies on the international importation of a controlled substance, patients across the industry have been facing issues with delays, medicine consistency, and product availability. 

But, we’re thrilled to announce that we have recently partnered with Glass Pharms®, a UK-based, Home Office approved, and MHRA regulated, legal medical cannabis cultivator, in a first of its kind partnership. As a result of Releaf’s commitment to excellence spanning price, patient value, logistics and clinical excellence, Releaf patients now have access to medicines that were grown here in the UK, with a range of cultivars that are not available anywhere else. 

In The Sunday Times article, Glass Pharms’ Chief Executive James Duckenfield explained:
“Patients will now have a security of supply that was previously missing from a market that relied on imports. Our continuous harvesting model will help bring an end to the out-of-stock issues that have set back the development of this promising therapeutic area.”

As well as ensuring the supply chain is continually sustainable, Glass Pharms invested more than £26 million into implementing sustainable, eco-friendly practices, such as utilising rainwater, and methane from food waste, to develop a net carbon negative cultivation process. 

With this partnership, we’re taking innovative approaches to ensure patient outcomes are optimised, while supporting the local economy, benefiting the environment, and improving patient experience.

Unveiling our partnership: a new era of medical cannabis accessibility

By securing this partnership with Glass Pharms, patients at Releaf like Chloe now have unprecedented access to a range of medical cannabis flowers grown in the UK. Not available elsewhere, this range contains THC bearing flowers that can be categorised as type 1 (or high in THC), type 2 (balanced), and type 3 (high in CBD, low in THC).

Due to the strict regulations that surround controlled medicines, unfortunately, we are unable to talk about the individual cultivars included in the Releaf range. But, we can assure patients significant research and development was undertaken by Glass Pharms to ensure it caters to a wide range of symptoms, offers a diverse scope of complimentary terpene profiles, and can help as many people as possible. 

We spoke to Mark Heley, Head of External Relations at Glass Pharms, who explained one of the very first principles when designing their Wiltshire based facility was ensuring they could continually harvest plants, so that the medication patients rely on never goes out of stock, and that these supply issues can come to an end.

Mark said:

“We designed a system where we can frequently harvest small quantities. Once we harvest, this medicine could be in the hands of patients within a matter of six to eight weeks. 

It's a very different model to the one most cultivators use. Instead of filling a section of greenhouse, pulling out a crop, harvesting it, storing it, and then starting again, we’ve implemented a cyclical, continual process. We have plants at every stage, every week, and, as more patient demand is created, we’ll scale our output accordingly.

We want to provide a certainty of prescription. A lot of people really need to have something which is stable, a cultivar they know, that they've been prescribed, that they find to be efficacious, and that they know will be available again when they need it. We want to be able to consistently provide that for people, and using this system, we can.” 

Using AI-automated and lab-like pristine environments, Glass Pharms have implemented an innovative system that carries cannabis plants on a conveyor belt from room to room, through four separate greenhouse spaces, or climate chambers, with optimal conditions for each part of the plants' lifecycle - until they are ready for harvest. 

After harvesting, as Mark said, this medicine can be in the hands of patients within a number of weeks, and, Glass Pharms are currently harvesting multiple times a week. When the products are grown in the UK, and prescribed to patients in the UK, the supply chain becomes much shorter, and, patients receive fresh products that contain high levels of terpenes.

Accessing medicine: medical cannabis prescription processes

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes in a medical cannabis clinic and behind the screens of the virtual consults our industry leading doctors hold, but, you may be wondering: 

What typically happens in between a medical cannabis prescription being written, and a patient receiving their medication?

Well, as it turns out, a lot. 

Typically, the process is as follows:

  1. The prescription is written and signed by the prescribing clinician.
  2. The prescription is approved by the clinic's multidisciplinary team (MDT).
  3. The patient orders their cannabis-based medicines with their clinic. 
  4. The clinic send the prescription and order to their dispensing pharmacy on behalf of the patient. 
  5. Once the pharmacy receive the physical signed prescription, they can release the medication.
  6. The medication is then sent to the patient from the pharmacy, sometimes via their prescribing clinic. 

Because this process requires a lot of moving cogs, most private medical cannabis clinics in the UK recommend their patients order their medication 10 days before they are expected to run out. 

Usually, 10 days is enough time to issue, sign, print and send the prescription to the pharmacy, and give the pharmacy enough time to sort and dispense and deliver to the patient. 

However, recently, medical cannabis patients in the UK have reported experiencing extreme delays when trying to access their prescribed medications due to issues in supply, quality, importation, and delivery - often, because this entire system relies on imports.

This can, and has, had disastrous and serious effects not only on patients' health and wellbeing, but their quality of life, progress in their treatment plan, and confidence in their prescribing clinic too, and, it is ultimately unfair.

Why are there issues with supply and delays for medical cannabis flowers in the UK?

Importation

In the UK, there are around 40 prescribing medical cannabis clinics. Some of these clinics use the same pharmacies, and these pharmacies import medical cannabis from a limited number of international suppliers, cultivators, and manufacturers of medical cannabis flower and prescribed cannabis oils. 

When many different clinics have access to the same flower cultivar or ‘strains’, it's not uncommon for patients to experience delays when waiting for these particular products. 

One supplier can receive hundreds, if not thousands, of orders for the same flower, but in different quantities, for different prescribing clinics, to be imported into different countries and dispensed by different pharmacies, and then delivered to each patient’s individual address. 

This also means, at times, patients can find out their medication is unavailable after they have received a prescription for it because it can take a number of days for the physical, signed prescription to arrive at the dispensing pharmacy, only to find, they have no stock of that particular cultivar left.

In these cases, usually the pharmacy then contact the clinic, who contacts the patient, who then has to choose between trying a suggested alternative, or waiting for when the medication that they know works for them comes back into stock. Regardless of the option they choose, patients face delays, and this is likely to negativity impact their treatment plan.

Cultivation

In addition to this, unlike synthetic, man-made medicines, medical cannabis is not a chemical concoction that has been manufactured in a lab, or pressed into formulation by a machine whose output can be simply increased when demand rises.

Medical cannabis is a plant, grown in batches, and tended to in a controlled environment over the course of many weeks. 

Every cultivator grows different cultivars and quantities, but they aim to have a sufficient supply of high quality, safe and effective flowers that can meet patients needs, and be accessed by them, before their products expire.

However, when patient numbers surge, or batches become contaminated, or don’t grow to the right quality - demand dwarfs supply and naturally, a backlog is created. But, this is something we’re hoping our new partnership could resolve.

Closing thoughts

This first of its kind partnership takes a significant step towards addressing some of the most prevalent issues faced by patients using medical cannabis in the UK currently. 

By sourcing domestically grown medical cannabis for our patients, at Releaf we’re not only reducing the significant wait times, avoiding importation complications and the high carbon footprints associated with international supply chains, but we’re also benefiting the environment, the local economy, and most importantly - our patients, their health outcomes, and their experiences. 

Glass Pharms’ innovative cultivation model ensures our patient’s treatment plans won't be interrupted due to issues with stock or supply of their medicine, and patients will no longer have to experience the anxiety and health setbacks that can be caused when their necessary medication is unavailable, or delayed.

Our innovative yet personable services, all-in-one patient platform, and health-tech patient-focused approach to care gives patients flexible, expert support throughout their journey with medical cannabis. 

Together, we’re thrilled to be at the forefront of change in the medical cannabis industry, where patients take priority.

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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Authors

With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.


Further reading

How does medical cannabis affect blood pressure?

Slowly but surely, medical cannabis prescriptions are becoming more accessible to patients in the UK. A growing body of research indicates that cannabis-based medicines can be effective in the treatment of a wide range of conditions, from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to chronic pain and epilepsy.

Emily Ledger

How does Releaf deliver patients their prescribed medication?

Here at Releaf, we are constantly improving our processes and medical cannabis delivery service to ensure that our patients receive their prescribed medication in a timely and efficient manner, and for good reason. This isn't any old online shopping order they're waiting on. It's their medication - something that is vital to their health and wellbeing.

Sam North