DID you know that you could be eligible for a legal medical cannabis prescription? What’s more, the process of obtaining it is incredibly straightforward.
Since being made a legal medicine in 2018, cannabis has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of patients for whom go-to pharmaceutical drugs have not worked. From generalised anxiety to chronic pain, cancer symptoms to arthritis, medical cannabis has been proven to be a safe and effective treatment for an incredibly wide range of conditions.
But, you won’t get this medication from your GP. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting on framework revisions that would allow our primary care doctors to provide CBPMs (cannabis-based products). This will be a vital step towards wider access to free prescriptions on the NHS.
However, you can get a cannabis prescription from a number of private clinics across the UK – including the only medical cannabis clinic with Scottish Regulatory Approval, Sapphire Medical Clinics in Stirling.
The idea of private medicine may seem a little daunting, but it needn’t be. The process of picking up a cannabis prescription is remarkably simple – from registering for a consultation online, to having your chosen oil, flower or formulation delivered straight to your door.
The National spoke to Sapphire Medical Clinics head of research and access Dr Simon Erridge, an honorary clinical research fellow and doctor at Imperial College London, to find out exactly what to expect from Scotland’s first cannabis clinic.
Do I need a referral for a medical cannabis prescription?
“Patients can self-refer through our website free of charge or, if they prefer, they can speak to their GP or specialist consultant and ask for a referral,” says Erridge
“After that initial contact, we’ll ask for a summary of medical care and our triage team will assess whether the patient is a suitable candidate. They will need to have already tried the first-line medications suggested by their GP or consultant. Assuming the patient fits the criteria, we can then book them in for a full consultation within 24-48 hours.”
What happens at the consultation?
“Appointments usually take place via telemedicine (online via a video link), but there is the option for patients to come into our clinic for a face-to-face consultation if they prefer, Erridge explains.
“By taking appointments online we are able to enlist the help of specialist clinicians up and down the country, as well as ensuring patient comfort.
“Around one-third of people who enquire will go on to see a consultant, as a very detailed assessment is performed before consultations to avoid any unnecessary costs to patients who are not suitable candidates at this time. We recognise it’s a struggle for many people to pay for private medication so we always want to make sure they’re in the right place before anything else.”
Will I need any tests before getting my prescription?
“As current guidelines dictate that patients must have tried other medications before obtaining a cannabis prescription, most people we see are quite far along in their treatment journey.
“Because of this, there’s really very little we ask of our patients – most of them have already had extensive testing, scans and bloodwork. On occasion we may ask a small minority of patients for extra routine blood tests before we offer a prescription but this is rarely a barrier. It’s really to ensure safety when it comes to medication interactions.”
What happens after the consultation?
“Once the patient has been seen by a specialist, their needs are discussed at a multi-disciplinary meeting with a range of experts, including specialists from psychiatry and neurology, to discuss the nuances of the patient and make a final decision,” Erridge says.
“If it is decided the patient is a good candidate for medical cannabis, a prescription is made. This is then sent to a specialist pharmacy. Although most of our patients use ‘CBPM Access’ patients are free to choose their preferred specialist pharmacy.
“Due to the regulations around controlled drugs, the prescription must be a paper one. This is couriered to the pharmacy, which puts it together and has couriered directly to the patient.”
Will you need to speak to my GP?
“You can either provide us with your medical records yourself, or we can contact your GP for them,” Erridge says.
“Either way, we do need to have a direct line of contact with the patient’s GP so we can communicate the new treatment plan with them and they can adjust other medications accordingly.”
What if my GP disapproves of medical cannabis?
Erridge says: “If your GP is against medical cannabis, this doesn’t have to present an issue. We always communicate what we’re doing with the GP, but at the end of the day you have complete rights to your own summary of care records and you can self-refer without your GP being on side.
“Some GPs are very pro medical cannabis, others are still entrenched in the heavy stigma surrounding it, but most just want to advocate for their patients and realise that within the NHS framework they’re unable to advise on cannabis. We have noticed that when one patient has a good experience with us, their GP is then more likely to reach out and make referrals on behalf of other patients as well. Our reputation is making the decision easier for GPs.”
Will I get any follow-up consultations?
“Once you’ve received your prescription, assuming everything goes smoothly, we provide a follow-up consultation after one month, then every three months after that,” says Erridge.
“In addition, 92% of of patients are on the ‘sapphire access scheme’ (a subsidised programme) and through that they’re regularly sent quality of life questions and questionnaires about their experience. You can view your own progress on your private patient portal.”
How much will my cannabis prescription cost?
“Patients on the sapphire access scheme pay £50 per appointment and, although it varies depending on the prescription, on average a chronic pain patient would pay £135 a month inclusive of appointments and medication.”