Key Points

  • Medical cannabis can help reduce chronic pain and nausea as well as increases your appetite. 
  • There are two forms of medical cannabis approved for use on the NHS in the UK: cannabis oil and flowers.
  • Medical cannabis can be used to help a wide range of conditions, and those that are not covered by the NHS are often covered by specialist private practices.
  • Medical cannabis is different from the CBD oil you can buy in shops since the latter is usually considered to be a food product.
  • It is essential to get the right prescription for your needs, as cannabinoid content in various cannabis products can differ greatly. 

Medical cannabis comes from the cannabis plant and is usually prescribed in either oil or flower form. While recreational use of cannabis is still illegal, medical cannabis uses in the UK are carefully controlled, especially for those seeking NHS prescriptions. In this article, we take a look at some of the wider medical uses for cannabis in the UK. 

Cannabis is used to treat several medical conditions, yet to get a prescription on the NHS, you need to have to meet very strict criteria to be eligible for a prescription. But the rules are more relaxed when medical cannabis is prescribed through private practice, and more health conditions are covered. We’ll talk about these conditions in a moment, but first, let’s look at the medical cannabis uses covered by the NHS. 

Is medical cannabis available on the NHS?

Two cannabis medications are approved for use on the NHS in the UK. 

Sativex is used to treat muscle spasms and stiffness in multiple sclerosis sufferers. It comes in a spray form that you dispense into your mouth. The medicine contains two cannabinoids: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). 

Epidyolex is used to treat two different types of epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Epidyolex is pure CBD and does not contain THC. 

You need to have either one of the two forms of epilepsy, be suffering from nausea following chemotherapy, or have multiple sclerosis to be eligible for a medical marijuana prescription under the NHS. Additionally, you need to have tried at least two other treatments before trying medical cannabis. 

What are the medical uses of cannabis? 

Medical cannabis is licensed for use on the NHS for a limited list of health conditions, but cannabis is also known to alleviate symptoms across a wide range of other illnesses. Researchers are currently studying different conditions that medical cannabis can treat. 

Some of the most promising results for treatment with medical cannabis have been associated with these illnesses:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Mental health conditions such as PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • HIV and AIDs
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Nausea
  • Appetite loss
  • Seizures
  • Pain
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Wasting Syndrome

While there is still more research to be done on many of these conditions, the good news is that in the UK, you can be prescribed medical marijuana for many of these illnesses through private providers such as the Medical Cannabis Clinics. 

So while you may not meet the requirements to get a medical cannabis prescription under the NHS, you can consult a private specialist who can prescribe medical cannabis for other symptoms. We suggest scheduling a virtual consultation with one of our doctors to discuss your options and set you up with a prescription. 

In parts of the United States, medical cannabis is already used to treat many of these conditions, and scientists are expecting to receive even more data on how effective the drug is at relieving symptoms. This data can help inform professionals on how medical cannabis can help more people suffering from illnesses. 

How does cannabis help epilepsy? 

It isn’t known exactly how CBD helps reduce seizures in people with epilepsy, but a 2017 study by Emilio Perucca finds that CBD interacts with receptors in our brains and can reduce neuron excitability in two particular receptors that are associated with seizures. 

According to Epilepsy UK, the use of medical cannabis has reduced seizures in patients with either Draft Syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome by 30%. Furthermore, research studies carried out by Great Ormond Street Hospital doctors found that using medical cannabis to treat epilepsy in children resulted in a 40% reduction in seizures compared to a placebo drug. 

Medical cannabis that is prescribed for children has no psychoactive ingredients and therefore will not make the patients “high”, but it can improve their childhood experience. There is also evidence and further studies underway through Epilepsy UK to look at how medical cannabis can help all epilepsy sufferers by reducing the risk of seizures. 

How does cannabis help with multiple sclerosis?

Medical cannabis can be prescribed to treat muscle spasms and stiffness in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Research by the MS Society reports that 7 in 10 people taking medical cannabis have a 20% drop in symptoms, and for some, this improvement can be as high as 30%. 

There are also additional positive side effects of taking medical cannabis for MS symptoms. For instance, many patients report that it helps with bladder problems, sleeping and tremors. While medical marijuana is not licensed in the UK to help with these symptoms, it’s a positive benefit to taking cannabis as a medication. 

How does cannabis help with chemotherapy?

Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy can suffer from a lack of appetite, nausea, sickness and weight loss. It’s unpleasant, to say the least, and comes at a time when you need as much body strength as possible to help support your immune system in fighting the disease. 

This is where medical cannabis can help. For patients suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, medical cannabis can help reduce nausea and sickness while also increasing appetite. This can limit weight loss and help maintain a healthy diet while the patient receives treatment. 

Other medical uses for cannabis

Cannabis can be used to help people suffering from HIV and AIDS in a similar way to those experiencing chemotherapy. It helps increase appetite, reduce nausea and limits body wasting.

While the drug is not licensed for this use in the UK at the moment, you can still get prescriptions through private providers such as the Medical Cannabis Clinics. There is data from the United States that supports the use of medical cannabis to treat these symptoms that come from other diseases. 

Similarly, medical cannabis can help with eating disorders such as anorexia by helping to increase appetite. 

Research regarding the uses of medical cannabis is still ongoing, and the more scientific evidence for the benefits of medical cannabis there is, the more information medical practitioners will have to call for changes to how medical cannabis is regulated in the UK. 

How is medical cannabis different from CBD products? 

CBD oils that you can buy in your local health shop are not the same as medical cannabis. Firstly, there is no THC present in shop-bought CBD products. Secondly, they are not produced to the same grade or standards as medical cannabis. This means they cannot advertise any health benefits and are classed as food products. 

The levels of CBD in shop-bought oils are much lower than those in medical cannabis. When you are treating conditions and symptoms like epilepsy, nausea and MS, it is crucial to get a prescription for medical cannabis so that the levels of cannabinoids you ingest can be controlled and adjusted to your needs. 

Conclusion

Cannabis has many medical uses in the UK and can help to improve the quality of life for many people suffering from painful and debilitating conditions. While not all these conditions are eligible for cannabis prescriptions on the NHS, patients can get prescriptions through private providers like the Medical Cannabis Clinics.

Additionally, as more research comes out, there will be a better understanding of the medicinal properties of cannabis which can help inform future decisions about the drug. 

FAQs

How do I get a prescription for medical cannabis?

You have two routes to take for a medical cannabis prescription. The NHS option is only available to people who: Have one of two forms of severe epilepsy, suffer from MS or chemotherapy-related nausea Have already tried other methods of treatment Have had medical cannabis prescribed to them by a specialist doctor at a hospital You can also get a prescription for medical cannabis through private practices. You may still need to have exhausted other treatments first, but private practices can prescribe medical cannabis for a range of conditions, including: Crohn’s Disease Chronic pain Anxiety, stress or depression Seizures Spasticity PTSD Endometriosis /PCOS Terminal cancers Kidney failure Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s Congestive Heart Failure Multiple Sclerosis Leukaemia and Lymphoma To get a private prescription, you will first need to make an appointment for a consultation where the doctor will discuss your symptoms, medical history and how the condition is impacting your life. They will then decide if medical cannabis is right for you.

How do I take medical cannabis?

Medical cannabis is prescribed either as an oil that you take under the tongue or as a flower which you can vape. It is still illegal to smoke medical cannabis in the UK.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5767492/ 
  2. https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/involved/campaigns/cannabis
  3. https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-we-treat/epilepsy/use-cannabis-based-medicinal-products-treat-epilepsy/
  4. https://www.mssociety.org.uk/about-ms/treatments-and-therapies/cannabis/sative
  5. https://www.healtheuropa.com/examining-the-potential-of-the-uk-medicinal-cannabis-market/107363/