Expert advice

Medicines management: UK should review ban on raw marijuana

Raw marijuana could benefit patients with certain conditions and the UK government should review its use, says medicines management expert Matt Griffiths.
Marijuana

Raw marijuana could benefit patients with certain conditions and the UK government should review its use, says medicines management expert Matt Griffiths

Some areas of the United States have laws supporting the use of raw marijuana for medical needs, as do certain countries in Europe medical use is legal under certain conditions in Romania, and medical use of the drug on prescription has been legal since 2013 in the Czech Republic.

In the UK, the medical use of raw marijuana is currently not allowed, but there are products such as Sativex Oromucosal spray which contain the active ingredients from marijuana. This is licensed for symptom improvement in adult patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS) who meet certain requirements.

It is also used off licence meaning

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Raw marijuana could benefit patients with certain conditions and the UK government should review its use, says medicines management expert Matt Griffiths


Raw marijuana could potentially benefit patients with certain conditions. Picture: iStock

Some areas of the United States have laws supporting the use of raw marijuana for medical needs, as do certain countries in Europe – medical use is legal under certain conditions in Romania, and medical use of the drug on prescription has been legal since 2013 in the Czech Republic. 

In the UK, the medical use of raw marijuana is currently not allowed, but there are products such as Sativex Oromucosal spray which contain the active ingredients from marijuana. This is licensed for symptom improvement in adult patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS) who meet certain requirements.

It is also used ‘off licence’ – meaning the practitioner prescribing it takes legal responsibility for its use outside of what it is licensed for – for pain and spasticity in patients without MS. But it is very expensive compared with illicit raw marijuana, so NHS funding is a real issue.

As with any medication, there are potential hazards to using marijuana, including increased paranoia, psychosis and other mental health conditions. There are also health risks from smoking the substance, which is usually mixed with tobacco.

Lack of foresight

Many states in the US allow recreational use of marijuana, and some countries in Europe have either decriminalised its use or have laws which tolerate small amounts to be possessed, and even grown, for personal use.

In the UK there seems to be a real lack of foresight in reviewing the use of marijuana for medical use. There are many conditions, including HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma and cancer, where patients could potentially benefit from its use. 

If the local clinical commissioning group agrees, we can prescribe a marijuana-based product in an oromucosal spray, which may be prescribed ‘off licence’. 

Many patients may use illicit forms of the drug, such as cannabis resin. Although it is illegal in this form, we should still encourage those who use it in this way to let us know confidentially so we can consider any drug-on-drug side effects.

The government should review the medical use of marijuana to see if it would bring any benefit to patients within the UK, as other countries around the world are doing and have done.

Matt Griffiths is visiting professor of prescribing and medicines management at Birmingham City University 

 

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