BlogThe Patient Conference: ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’.

The Patient Conference: ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’.

11 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

During Medical Cannabis Awareness Week, the annual Patient Conference took place on the 3rd of November at Conway Hall. We were proud to not only be in attendance, but one of the official sponsors of the event.

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Organised by Mags Houston, Head of Project and Communications for Drug Science, and Matt Hughes, Co-founder and Director of Medcan Family Foundation, The Patient Conference is a space for professionals, patients, and advocates to gather and partake in cannabis-based conversations. 

Panel discussions were held throughout the day on the beautiful stage in Conway Hall, symbolically beneath the Shakespearean quote ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’ which seemed particularly poignant, and rang true to the event's ethos. 

Around 10 cannabis-centred companies, including ourselves, hosted stalls in the exhibition room to provide more information about their services, products, campaigns, or raise awareness for the research they are undertaking. 

Curaleaf, MyAccessClinics, and Glass Pharms were there to showcase their services, as were Blackpoint Biotech, Drug Science, Medcan, PureSunFarms, CannDr and Ethica CBD. Seed Our Future, Global Cannabinoid Solutions, PLEA, Volteface, Medicannna, and Crystallized Nectar were also represented or in attendance, bringing every part of the industry together, from seed, to sale, to support.  

Familiar Faces and Topics of Interest

Professor Mike Barnes and Dr Callie Seaman opened the show, welcoming the audience to The Patient Conference. The dynamic duo emphasised the need for medical cannabis to become a more patient-focused industry, whilst still honouring and highlighting the efforts that have already been made by those involved. 

Professor Barnes stressed the importance of increasing awareness, reiterating the disparity between the awareness of its medicinal benefits, and the widespread stigma and concern certain healthcare professionals often hold in regard to these treatment options. 

He said it is estimated that around 3 million people in the UK could potentially benefit from medical cannabis, and repeated industry calls to expand the prescription rights of cannabis-based medicines to encompass GPs, because they are typically a patient’s first point of call. 

Dr Callie Seaman continued the speech, encouraging attendees to engage in conversations, network and meet new people. She spoke of how significant Medical Cannabis Awareness Week is, and explained how this week, and The Patient Conference came into fruition thanks to the work of collaborative efforts of PLEA, Drug Science and MedCan. 

Dr Callie requested a heartfelt moment of silence to honour Maddy Smith in light of her passing, and invited the audience to remember her contributions to the cannabis community, and her tireless work for Patient Led Engagement and Access (PLEA). Which we all honoured, without hesitation. She rounded off the welcoming speech succinctly, comedically raising spirits, with the phrase “and in the words of Bill and Ted, ‘be excellent to each other’. 

The Patient Conference Panels

Host of The Cannabis Conversation podcast, Anuj Desai, and Managing Editor of Cannabis Health, Sarah Sinclair, took turns hosting the four panel discussions that took place throughout the day. 

These panels focussed on a number of topics from innovation, new formulations, and methods of consumption, to making cannabis accessible to the masses. The other panels spoke about your legal rights as a patient, and how the medical cannabis industry has progressed over the last five years - post legalisation. 

During these panels, it was highlighted that unfortunately, and unjustifiably, the burden of educating society about medicinal cannabis; its efficacy, its legality, its known risks or side effects, often falls on patients. The discrimination, prejudice, or stigmatisation suffered by patients at the hands of police, employers, landlords, or healthcare providers, seems to be relatively widespread, and this is something that needs to be immediately addressed. 

The Cannabis Industry Council were in attendance, and Vice Chair Elisabetta Faenza made fantastic contributions to the third panel discussion, ‘your legal rights as a patient’. Here, as well as telling a heartbreaking personal anecdote about police discrimination, she promoted some of the recent guidelines that have been published by the CIC in an effort to stop these injustices. 

Available in leaflet version at The Patient Conference, and online in PDF format on the CIC website, the ‘Prescribed Cannabis Medicines And Driving’ document aims to equip patients with the information they need to stay safe whilst driving. Created by the CIC and their working groups, in collaboration with advocacy campaigns, consulting companies and solicitors, this document is accompanied by another document specifically designed for law enforcement, establishing the facts around medical cannabis and driving. 

Elisabetta also explained that the CIC welcome suggestions and feedback from medical cannabis patients, industry members, and the public, for other subjects they should release guidance documents on, and these topics or subject matters can be nominated through their website. 

The launch of the Canndr App was also promoted during this panel, and the team had a stall in the exhibition room for attendees to find out more. As well as acting as a patient card to protect medical cannabis patients, their AI Assistant support is there to answer any question you may have about cannabis. 

Tom Whettem, Founder of Canndr, explained one feature I found particularly innovative. Patients using the app can also log complaints if their rights regarding their medicine have been breached by a particular authority. These incidents will be recorded, and eventually, data can be compiled that will represent where these breaches happen, how they happen, and how often they occur, so it can be officially published, and hopefully, rectified. 

Although I felt each panel was informative and inspirational, one particularly caught my attention. The second panel, making cannabis accessible to the masses, was hosted by Sarah Sinclair, and took place just before lunch. 

Making Cannabis Accessible to the Masses

Health and Social Care Consultant and medical cannabis patient, Berta Kaguako took part in this panel alongside Laura Cockram, who is Head of Campaigns at Parkinson's UK. Sarah Hamilton, from Ehlers-Danlos Support UK, also featured, as did Joséphine McFarlane, Marketing Lead for GROW, and Alice Salisbury, parent to a child with epilepsy, specialist in strategy and research consultancy, and member of the Medcan Family Foundation. 

Here these five powerful voices shared their perspectives, personal stories, and professional opinions on the subject matters how to make cannabis accessible to the masses, namely focussing on stigma-reduction, research promotion, education, and diversity.

During the discussion, the panel seemed unanimous on the idea that some kind of centralised cannabis education is required in almost every industry. 

In 2023, there is still a large proportion of the population that is unaware medical cannabis is a legal treatment option, and the panel explained this could be due to a lack of awareness campaigns, or diverse stories represented in the media. 

Another example raised in this discussion was the increasing level of patients reporting they have had negative police interactions, medicine confiscations, false arrests, or have had their homes searched only because they are a medical cannabis patient. Which, again, falls on a lack of awareness and education. 

It was also mentioned that many doctors don’t feel confident prescribing cannabis-based treatments. This is commonly because of a lack of information and guidance provided when prescribing or administering unlicensed cannabis products, and it was deduced this fault falls with the industry, for failing to educate healthcare professionals on their products and processes. 

Alice Salisbury argued that to increase the healthcare industry, and wider societies, awareness and acceptance of cannabis-based treatments, cannabis medicines need to be marketed in a way that aligns with their purpose as a legitimate, effective medicinal product. 

Joséphine McFarlene agreed, but pointed out the different patient perspectives they discovered in research they have conducted previously. Joséphine explained that although those who are more hesitant to try cannabis-based medicines, because of the associated stigma, may be more attracted to clinical looking products, those who have come from the legacy, self-medicating market may be alienated by this. 

Comparisons were drawn between the cosmetic surgery and tattoo industries, and Joséphine explained these industries used medical associations to help with stigma-reduction. They argued the same thing could potentially be replicated in the medical cannabis world, if marketing and awareness was to focus on the therapeutic benefits cannabis can offer, as opposed to focussing on its recreational appeal. 

The panel ended with a call for a collective effort, to promote research, initiate conversations, share diverse stories, and advocate for positive changes. Challenges such as institutional racism and stigmas associated with cannabis use, particularly in certain communities, were acknowledged, and a call to amplify marginalised voices and share diverse stories made a very powerful ending to this panel. 

Cannabis takes Centre Stage

Just after lunch, there was an exclusive screening of Sisters Interrupted, a film that tells the tale of Tasmin and Chelsea Leyland - two sisters battling different forms of epilepsy with different types of medicines. This heartfelt film took around three years to film, and shows how Chelsea now lives in the US, is a medical cannabis patient, and has been seizure-free for seven years. 

However, across the pond, her sister Tasmin lives in the UK, and can suffer with up to 70 seizures a day because of her treatment-resistant epilepsy. Due to the serious complications of Tasmin’s condition, she lives under the care of the NHS full time, who are unwilling to listen to Chelsea, and other experts’, appeals to try a cannabis-based treatment for Tasmin, because they say it would be unethical. 

This profoundly moving story shows how differently cannabis-based treatments are viewed in different parts of the world by healthcare providers, which is incredibly unfair to patients, and hopes to raise awareness of, and reduce the stigma associated with, cannabis-based medicines. The screening was followed by a Q&A session with Matt Hughes, and the film has since gone on to premier at The Raindance Film Festival. 

By representing these struggles, and providing a platform for them to be heard, the event reminded the entire audience of why they were in attendance. Hearing stories like the Leyland sisters reinstated how important it is to collectively further the evidence, awareness, and levels of access to cannabis-based treatments in the UK. 

Closing thoughts

Although the crowd did feel as though it was mostly made up of those professionally involved in the industry, many working in the industry are medical cannabis patients themselves, and having at least one patient on every panel ensured the event remained true to its values. 

Despite the underlying consensus, that progress in furthering the medical cannabis industry, and acceptance and awareness of it, is coming along too slowly - everyone still seemed to be in positive spirits. There was chatter filling the medication room, entrance hall, and exhibitors room all day long, and everyone seemed actively engaged and participated in passionate discussions. 

All in all, The Patient Conference is another invaluable event in the cannabis calendar, and it transcends mere words and dialogue; it is a space where people from all areas of the industry can come together to enact meaningful change. 

The day’s discussions all centred around one main aspect: medical cannabis needs to be standardised, de-stigmatised, and normalised. These collaborative calls from advocates, patients, and industry members demand further recognition, attention, and advocacy.

Accessing medical cannabis can be challenging due to the stigma surrounding it. However, Releaf makes it simple with our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your cannabis prescription

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.

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