In 2018 medical cannabis was legalised in the UK, opening the doors for many people to seek alternative treatments for their chronic conditions. Almost 4 years on though, I realised that actually I know very little about cannabis as a medicine , how to get it prescribed and the difference between prescription cannabis and CBD products, so today I’m chatting to Dr Callie Seaman, an expert and patient, to debunk some of the myths.
Dr Seaman has worked in the hydroponic industry for 20 years, which is essentially all about growing plants without soil, it was through this work that she became involved with medical cannabis, alongside being a patient who is prescribed it. Medical cannabis is most commonly used for conditions such as chronic pain, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, although it is a treatment rather than a cure. “I think we need to manage patient’s expectations, this is one of the misconceptions about medical cannabis, that it’s a cure all”. Dr Seaman goes on to explain how it can help manage epilepsy symptoms, rather than stopping seizures altogether, “ For myself and many people with epilepsy they will say it doesn’t stop our seizures, what it does is that it helps with things like sleep, increases appetite, it helps with side effects from other medications, so it’s about improving quality of life as opposed to curing our disease”.
She also stressed that like all drugs, medical cannabis doesn’t come without risks, “I think we do need to say that cannabis is not completely risk free, it has got a lot less risks than many other drugs on the market, that we can say. However, there are still always risks and everybody is an individual, we all have our own endocannabinoid system and we will all react differently to different cannabis products and react differently to different cannabis varieties ”. There are also different types of medical cannabis, different cultivars (essentially, different varieties), and we will all react differently to each one, and each one will treat one symptom better than another. Exactly like with medications!
Whilst the law surrounding prescribing medical cannabis has changed, Dr Seaman spoke of how perceptions of medical cannabis haven’t necessarily improved. Medical cannabis can only be prescribed by a specialist clinician, but a GP can then write the repeat prescription, but some GPs aren’t willing to do that. Isolate cannabinoid products have been prescribed on the NHS for some time, but this is different to the full plant extract that can now be prescribed and used for chronic pain and other conditions. At the moment prescribing of medical cannabis is very much based in the private sector, with very little NHS prescribing happening unfortunately.
For those wanting to look into medical cannabis Dr Seaman recommends taking a look at Project Twenty21, and stresses the importance of finding a clinic with a specialist that suits your condition. For example, if you had epilepsy you would look for a neurologist, but that wouldn’t be suitable for someone with chronic bone based pain. For chronic pain patients, here at The Leva Clinic we are part of Project Twenty21 and can prescribe medical cannabis. The project is the largest observational medical cannabis research project in Europe and aims to collate evidence of the benefits of medical cannabis to encourage the government and other governing bodies to see the benefits of it.
We also spoke about CBD, which are the over the counter products that have popped up over the past 5 years. CBD and medical cannabis are completely separate and do not work in the same way, and are definitely not to be confused. Dr Seaman spoke about how CBD may work wonders for some people, but currently there is a lack of regulation and social responsibility. Often we don’t fully know the ingredients of these over the counter products, and whilst there are some companies operating very responsibly, due to a lack of regulation this isn’t the case across the board. We also don’t yet know the long term effects of daily use of CBD products, especially for those starting from a young age. As with anything, anyone looking into CBD or medical cannabis should be doing plenty of research before taking any steps forward!
Medical cannabis certainly creates some exciting opportunities, particularly for chronic pain patients who end up on high dose opiates which can be extremely addictive with many side effects. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes over the next few years, particularly as more research comes out.
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