A 32 year old woman – Carly Barton, has been suffering from a long term painful condition called fibromyalgia. This was after a stroke she had suffered from in her twenties. In a new development, she became the first patient United Kingdom to have been prescribed medical cannabis after a change in the laws.
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Barton is a former University lecturer and has been using cannabis for her pain for the past two years – albeit illegally. She was initially prescribed opioids for her pain which may be more effective but left her “zombied” she said. She opted for cannabis right after. Last month she was given a prescription of medicinal cannabis by the Greater Manchester-based private pain specialist Dr David McDowell. She will have to shell out around £2,500 for the three month prescription.
Prescription of cannabis for medicinal purposes was legalized on the first of November this year after the rescheduling of the drug. It was earlier a Schedule 1 drug which meant that it was considered to have no medicinal value and thus could not be legally prescribed or possessed. Now cannabis is scheduled as Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 which means that it could be prescribed by practitioners to certain individuals and could be possessed by individuals having legal prescriptions. One other schedule 2 drug is ketamine.
Ms Barton, deputy director of patient advocacy group United Patients Alliance, added that there were interim guidelines that made it difficult for her to obtain prescriptions. Prescribers did not have the guidance to write prescriptions she said. She called it “prohibition under a different name.” She said in a statement, “Those guidelines need setting on fire as far as I'm concerned, and the NHS specialists need to be made to feel comfortable about making a clinical decision...There's a complete and utter silent approach - people turning their backs and not wanting to discuss it - and that's because specialists don't have any information. They're not worth the paper they're printed on and that needs to change tomorrow.”
Dr McDowell however explained that the hesitation to prescribe also stemmed from lack of evidence based data that showed benefit of the agents. He explained that there is “increasing evidence of people being able to reduce their opioid consumption and maybe other drugs as well,” with the use of cannabis. This could be a way forward he said.
Meanwhile Barton is relieved to not have to resort to nefarious means to get hold of her cannabis. She said she was put in dangerous situations trying to procure the medicinal product. She said in a wry statement, “We are going to be put in a position where the rich are patients and the poor are criminals.” She needs around a gram of the product each day for her pain.
According to NHS guidance, only specialist doctors can prescribe cannabis and not GPs and further they can be prescribed when other management options have been exhausted.