By Emily Ledger
Following the opening of Scotland’s first legal medical cannabis clinic, patients in Scotland are finally receiving their first prescriptions for medical cannabis products.
Sapphire Medical Clinics opened their first Scotland clinic in the central city of Stirling back in March this year after receiving approval from regulators.
In their opening days, the clinic received hundreds of applications from patients with a wide range of eligible conditions. Now, legal medical cannabis prescriptions are finally being completed in the country over two and a half years after the UK legalised the drug for medicinal use.
In an interview with BBC Scotland, Scottish medical cannabis patient Heather (not her real name), said:
“Because it is such a low, carefully-controlled dose, it is slowly building up to affect the actual pain receptors themselves.
“It feels as though those senses are being dulled in areas where I have got pain. Rather than feeling totally high, I haven’t felt any side effects of that of the cannabis medication.
“To me, I see it as a trial at the moment. There is certainly anecdotal evidence that it helps people. But I want to know if it is going to help me and my quality of life.”
Medical Cannabis in the UK
In November 2018, the UK government rescheduled cannabis in the Misuse of Drugs Act, effectively allowing the medical use of the drug under certain conditions.
Medical cannabis products must be prescribed by specialist clinicians and are only recommended for use if other treatments are unsuccessful. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) only recommends the use of cannabis-based products for a small number of conditions, however, this does not mean that they cannot be considered for a wider range of indications.
Despite the effective legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK, only a handful of NHS prescriptions have been approved. This means that the vast majority of medical cannabis patients access their medication through private clinics like Sapphire Medical Clinics.
There are only three licensed medical cannabis products in the UK – Epidyolex (a CBD-based medication), Nabilone (a synthetic THC-based product) and Sativex (a CBD:THC cannabis extract). However, only Epidyolex can be prescribed through the NHS in Scotland.
On the other hand, private clinics are able to prescribe unlicensed medical cannabis products, including cannabis flower, for a number of conditions.
Pain conditions are the most common indications associated with medical cannabis prescriptions in the UK. It is estimated that up to a third of people in the UK experience chronic pain in their lifetime, although the mechanisms behind the condition are often not fully understood.
Chronic pain can be difficult to treat, with current methods – including opioid-based painkillers – offering uncertain results and carrying a high risk of misuse and addiction.