WHEN WILL MEDICAL MARIJUANA BE MORE ACCESSIBLE TO UK PATIENTS?

WHEN WILL MEDICAL MARIJUANA BE MORE ACCESSIBLE TO UK PATIENTS?
Anyone who has been following the progression of marijuana from what was, in many parts of the world, a criminalised and socially maligned illicit drug to the golden child of health and wellness industries in countries as geographically disparate as the USA and Romania will be able to appreciate how quickly change can come about within this unique industry. Of course, one of the driving forces behind reform is the interest marijuana holds for the medical world, and the mounting bodies of research being completed into the applications this drug holds for a variety of acute and chronic physical and mental health conditions. From there, we have seen social and legal opinions adjust to a new landscape – one in which marijuana no longer exists beneath a raincloud of prejudice and misconception. So, when will things start to change for UK patients for whom marijuana offers plenty of potential as a therapeutic treatment? Read more below. Could Brexit Be a Catalyst for Change? The notion that Brexit could spur the UK onto rapid reform stems from two lines of thinking. Firstly, the UK is now free from any of the tough regulations stemming a more liberal approach to the drug. Secondly, focusing on the UK’s most lucrative sectors and opportunities for export and/or tax revenue remains key to a successful transition – and with the UK able to boast its status as one of the most fruitful medical marijuana producers in the world, the choice remains clear. Of course, there is an incredible amount of variance in the marijuana laws in Europe; while some countries have adapted relatively quickly to the increasing demand for reform on marijuana legalization – and some, like The Netherlands, have long represented frontrunners for the entire global cannabis industry – others remain strongly opposed to relaxing the enduring regulations that exist around medical and recreational marijuana. The UK exists somewhere between the two extremes. Despite briefly re-classifying marijuana from a Class B to a Class C drug – a category which contains heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy, among others – the UK legalised medical marijuana use just over two years ago. To this day, however, patients face an immense struggle to acquire a prescription – in the first half of 2019, for instance, it was reported that only 18 prescriptions for cannabis treatments were provided by the NHS. In all likelihood, there exists a long list of factors driving this slow uptake. A lack of funding for comprehensive studies, for instance, has limited the number of treatments the NHS will make available to patients. Furthermore, shortfalls in research – a factor which continues to impact the global medical and marijuana industries respectively – mean that healthcare providers are limited in their ability to verify the drug’s efficacy at treating certain conditions, despite mounting anecdotal evidence from around the world. Of course, Brexit has coincided with the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has stretched the UK’s National Health Service beyond any reasonable extent, and refocused attention away from areas of research and enquiry that pertain more closely to the subject of medical marijuana. For this reason, any impact from Brexit will likely only be felt in the coming years, rather than as an immediate and direct result. Research will Herald Real Change The gaps that remain in valid, peer-reviewed research and far-reaching studies remain glaringly obvious and, until this changes, the hands of the NHS’s fleet of GPs remain tied. For this reason, the overwhelming majority of prescriptions stem from private practices, where regulations and restrictions on what general practitioners can and cannot do are not so limiting. Research is needed, then, for two reasons. Firstly, it is necessary to ensuring that the quantitative data is there to augment the massive pool of qualitative data that already exists for marijuana as a medical treatment. Only then can the applications for this drug be verified in a scientific sense, and finally handed over to patients who continue to struggle to find or afford access to this treatment. Secondly, it is necessary to changing the minds of an entire generation. It is only in the last few years that the government’s stance on marijuana has begun to change, which means that there is likely to be a great demand for verification on the value this plant holds for a society. With hindsight, it seems incredibly unlikely that the NHS would be ready to spearhead an about-face for the UK’s marijuana industry in a matter of months or years. In the US, where individual states’ healthcare providers have a little more independence, change happened more quickly; as an institution, the NHS is reliant upon the confluence of social acceptance and research that will only come with time.

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