EducationCan you get a medical cannabis card for Crohn’s disease in the UK?

Can you get a medical cannabis card for Crohn’s disease in the UK?

11 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Can you get a medical cannabis card for Crohn’s disease in the UK?

Contents

Crohn's disease is an autoimmune condition that can have a significant impact on your quality of life. It is characterised by inflammation of the digestive tract, which can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weight loss and fatigue. While there is no known cure for Crohn's disease, patients have a range of treatment options available to them here in the UK, with medical cannabis being one of them.

Although medical cannabis is not a cure for Crohn's disease, it does offer significant relief from the symptoms – especially when administered in conjunction with conventional pharmaceutical options and lifestyle changes. Surgery is sometimes considered for more severe cases, but many patients report that medical cannabis provides relief from the pain and inflammation associated with the disease, and there is a growing body of research backing up these anecdotal claims.

In the UK, holding a medical cannabis card is not a legal requirement for medical cannabis patients, however it does provide an extra level of protection. Only certain private clinics provide their patients with medical cannabis cards, so it is important to research your options thoroughly.

In this article, we will discuss the treatment options available for Crohn's disease patients in detail, and run you through the process of getting a medical cannabis card if you wish to pursue this treatment option.

Crohn's disease treatment

The treatment options for Crohn's disease can be divided into four broad categories. These are surgery, pharmaceutical treatments, natural treatment options (like medical cannabis), and lifestyle-related treatments.

Lifestyle interventions

The impact of Crohn's disease may be mitigated, at least to some extent, by a patient's diet. For example, patients may be encouraged to eat a particularly nutrient-rich, carefully balanced diet to ensure that their body gets all the nourishment it needs to function.

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' diet for Crohn's disease patients, but certain foods can help to reduce symptoms. Some of the more general recommendations include:

  • Exclude dairy products from your diet.
  • Avoid greasy and fried foods.
  • Moderate your intake of high-fibre foods, such as raw vegetables and whole grains.
  • Avoid foods that promote flatulence, like beans and cruciferous vegetables.
  • Stick to well-cooked vegetables.

Some patients find that sticking to an animal product-only diet (more commonly referred to as the "carnivore diet") can help to reduce or even eliminate symptoms. However, the carnivore diet is not suitable for everyone and should only be implemented after speaking with a specialist doctor.

On top of changes to diet, patients should look to:

  • Find healthy ways to reduce stress, such as engaging in relaxation techniques or practising mindfulness.
  • Prioritize getting enough sleep by establishing a consistent bedtime routine and creating a sleep-friendly environment.
  • Incorporate regular exercise into your routine, aiming for a mix of cardiovascular workouts and strength training to promote overall well-being.
  • It is advisable to avoid Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) as they can have potential side effects and can even be the cause of a Crohn's flare-up.

Pharmaceutical treatments

If Crohn’s disease is too severe to be managed by lifestyle treatments alone, then pharmaceutical treatments are the next step. In the UK, current regulations typically require patients to explore conventional treatments for Crohn's before being considered for a medical cannabis prescription. It is also becoming more common for patients to take a combination of pharmaceutical treatments and medical cannabis to address their symptoms.

Common prescription options for Crohn's disease include:

  • Aminosalicylates: These medications, such as mesalamine, help reduce inflammation in the intestinal lining. They are typically used for mild to moderate cases of Crohn's disease and are available in oral or rectal forms.
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids, such as prednisone or budesonide, are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation rapidly during flare-ups of Crohn's disease. These medications have proven effective in providing short-term relief by suppressing the immune system and reducing inflammation in the digestive tract. Corticosteroids are, however, not recommended for long-term use due to their potential side effects.
  • Immunomodulators: Medications such as azathioprine, mercaptopurine, or methotrexate work by suppressing the immune system's response, helping to reduce inflammation and maintain remission. These drugs are typically used for patients who do not respond to aminosalicylates or corticosteroids.

Natural treatment options (including medical cannabis)

For those looking for a more natural treatment option, medical cannabis benefits for Crohn's sufferers is a growing area of interest. Studies suggest that the compounds found in the plant can help reduce inflammation in the gut and improve patients' quality of life overall.

Cannabis contains various compounds, including cannabinoids, which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system plays an overarching role in regulating processes such as pain, inflammation, and immune function. Medical cannabis, particularly cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has shown promise in managing Crohn's disease symptoms and improving the overall quality of life for some individuals.

Studies suggest that these cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce inflammation in the gut, providing relief from symptoms. Medical cannabis may also be able to modulate the immune response, which is implicated in Crohn's disease. Additionally, it may improve appetite and reduce nausea, while also reducing anxiety and help patients find restful sleep. This may help to prevent the weight loss commonly experienced by individuals with the disease.

Surgery

Surgical options for Crohn's are, understandably, generally a last resort if all other pharmaceutical and natural treatments fail. It may, however, be the only practical treatment for severe Crohn's-disease-related complications such as strictures or fistulas.

Importance of consistent treatment for Crohn's disease

People diagnosed with Crohn's disease should expect there to be a period of experimentation regarding their treatment path. They should also expect their treatment to need to be adjusted from time to time. The long-term management of Crohn's disease is crucial, and individuals should work closely with their healthcare team to find the most effective treatment plan for managing their symptoms most effectively.

It’s important to take all treatment options long enough to give them a fair trial before making any judgements about their efficacy. Switching quickly from one treatment method to another can be highly counterproductive.

Can you get a medical cannabis card for Crohn’s disease?

Crohn’s disease is one of the conditions for which it may be possible to obtain a prescription for medical cannabis. It is, however, significant to recognise that being diagnosed with Crohn's disease does not automatically guarantee that you will be prescribed medical cannabis or receive a UK medical cannabis card.

Anybody looking to take medical cannabis for Crohn’s disease must first be assessed by a specialist doctor. That means a doctor with specific experience in this area and one who is registered with the General Medical Council Specialist Register. The specialist will undertake a thorough evaluation of the potential benefits of medical cannabis and consider them against the risks. To do this, they will need to know both the patient’s current condition and their general medical history.

In particular, the doctor will need to know what treatments the patient has already tried. Doctors will generally only prescribe medical cannabis if no other treatments are available or if they have been tried and proved ineffective.

Getting a medical card for Crohn’s disease

There are four steps to obtaining a medical cannabis prescription for Crohn's here in the UK, and with it the possibility of also receiving a medical cannabis card, depending on which clinic you choose.

First up, you will need to find a clinic that you feel comfortable working with. You should make sure that they have a clear mission and values that you can get behind and trust.

Next, you will need to complete an initial eligibility questionnaire and also provide a copy of your medical records. This can be accessed through your GP.

If you are deemed to be a suitable candidate for a medical cannabis prescription, you’ll need to attend an in-person appointment or have an online consultation with a registered medical cannabis doctor. During this appointment, the doctor will assess your medical condition and review your medical records to determine if you are eligible for a prescription.

Finally, if you do qualify for a prescription, the doctor will then discuss what medical cannabis treatment options are best for your condition. At this point, the doctor may also issue you with a medical cannabis card if the clinic offers it.

If you decide to use Releaf as your medical cannabis clinic, you will receive a digital copy of your medical cannabis card as soon as the doctor fills out your prescription. You will then get the physical card as part of your first delivery.

Living with Crohn's disease

Coping with Crohn's disease long term can present numerous challenges, as the condition's unpredictable nature and chronic symptoms can significantly impact daily life. The symptoms, which may include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fatigue, and weight loss, can be debilitating and make it difficult to engage in regular activities. Coping mechanisms and strategies are crucial for managing the physical and emotional toll of the disease.

One useful strategy for chronic Crohn's disease management is maintaining a symptom journal to track triggers and identify patterns. This helps individuals better understand their condition and make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices. Additionally, managing stress through practices like meditation and deep breathing exercises can significantly alleviate symptoms and enhance overall well-being.

Crohn's disease can have a significant negative impact on a person’s mental health. It is therefore vital for patients to prioritise their emotional well-being and seek professional help if needed.

Seeking emotional support from loved ones, participating in support groups or connecting with online communities can all help provide a sense of understanding, reduce feelings of isolation, and foster a supportive network.

FAQs for medical cannabis and Crohn's disease

Can medical cannabis cure Crohn's Disease?

No, medical cannabis will not cure Crohn's disease. However, it may help manage symptoms and provide relief for individuals living with the condition.

What forms of medical cannabis are available for Crohn's Disease?

There is currently no licensed medical cannabis product specifically designed for managing Crohn's disease. However, doctors may prescribe a variety of products containing cannabinoid compounds, including oral capsules, oils, and vaporisers.

What are the potential side effects of using medical cannabis for Crohn's disease?

The potential side effects of using medical cannabis for Crohn's disease may include dizziness, dry mouth, changes in appetite and mood, increased heart rate, and changes in blood pressure. However, these side effects typically decrease over time and can be managed by adjusting the dosage or strain of cannabis administered.

It is essential to work closely with a doctor and follow their prescribed treatment plan to minimise potential side effects. Additionally, regular check-ins with the doctor can help monitor the effectiveness of treatment and make any necessary adjustments. Overall, medical cannabis for Crohn's disease is considered safe and well-tolerated by most patients.

Medical cannabis and Crohn's disease in brief

Crohn’s disease is a highly complex condition. The fact that its symptoms vary so greatly can make it challenging to treat effectively. In particular, it may mean that the dosage of medications has to be regularly adjusted, and that includes medical cannabis treatment options.

Releaf takes a highly personalised approach to the treatment of Crohn’s Disease with medical cannabis. We provide access to specialist consultations, followed by tailored medical cannabis prescription packages that include monthly check-ups, and a medical cannabis card for extra protection.

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.

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Further reading

Is CBD helpful for the symptoms of Crohn’s disease?

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the gastrointestinal tract, most often the small intestine and colon. Its milder symptoms include diarrhoea and fatigue. More severe cases may cause intense abdominal pain and impaired digestion, leading to potential malnutrition. Crohn's disease can also trigger very distressing complications such as ulcers and fissures.

Lucy MacKinnon

What you need to know about cannabis and Crohn’s disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the gastrointestinal tract. It causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weight loss and fatigue. The condition can be difficult to manage, and traditional treatment methods may not always be effective. This has led some people to explore alternative, complementary therapies, such as medical cannabis.

Lucy MacKinnon