As medical cannabis specialists, we have seen firsthand how medical cannabis can significantly improve the quality of life for patients suffering from various debilitating conditions. In recent years, there has been rising interest in the use of medical cannabis in the UK, and as a result, more and more patients are turning to medicinal cannabis doctors for help. In this blog, we explore the history of medical cannabis and how it has evolved to become a recognised treatment option in the UK.

Early Use of Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, with evidence of its use dating back to ancient China and India. The first recorded use of cannabis as medicine can be traced back to ancient China, where it was used to treat various conditions, including rheumatism, gout, and malaria.

In India, cannabis was used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to treat various ailments, including pain, inflammation, and digestive issues. In fact, the Indian hemp drug “bhang” was used as a remedy for dysentery and sunstroke, and was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac.

Cannabis was also used in ancient Greece and Rome for medicinal purposes. In the 19th century, cannabis was widely used in Europe and North America to manage various conditions, including pain, nausea, and insomnia.

Cannabis Prohibition and the Rise of Medical Cannabis

However, as modern medicine advanced, cannabis fell out of favour as a mainstream medical treatment, largely due to its association with recreational drug use. Despite its long history of medicinal use, cannabis was prohibited in most countries in the 20th century.

In the UK, cannabis was first criminalised in 1928 under the Dangerous Drugs Act. In 1971, the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed, categorising cannabis as a Class B drug with severe penalties for possession, cultivation and trafficking. This law remains in place today, although there has been some recent relaxation of restrictions on medical cannabis in the UK.

However, in November 2018, the UK government announced that medicinal cannabis would be made available on prescription to patients who had exhausted all other treatment options. This decision was based on the recommendation of the Chief Medical Officer and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, who recognised that cannabis-based medicines could have a therapeutic benefit for certain conditions.

Since then, the use of medical cannabis in the UK has been steadily increasing, with more and more patients seeking medicinal cannabis doctors to help them manage their symptoms. In 2022, it was reported that the number of patients in the UK receiving medical cannabis had increased from 250 in 2019 to around 17,000.

Benefits of Medical Cannabis

One of the main benefits of medical cannabis is its ability to relieve pain. Chronic pain is a common condition affecting an estimated 28 million people in the UK. Conventional painkillers such as opioids can be highly addictive and can cause a range of unpleasant side effects. In contrast, medical cannabis has been shown to be an effective pain reliever, with minimal side effects. Studies have shown that medical cannabis can be particularly effective in treating neuropathic pain, which is often resistant to other forms of treatment.

In addition to the conditions mentioned above, medical cannabis has shown promise in helping manage certain mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A 2018 study found that medical cannabis use was associated with reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.

The Cannabis Stigma

Despite the growing body of evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis, there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding the drug. This is partly due to its association with recreational drug use, but also because there is still relatively little known about the long-term effects of medical cannabis use. 

But with more and more research being conducted into the drug, it is becoming increasingly clear that medical cannabis can significantly impact many patients’ lives. It’s also important to note that medical cannabis differs greatly from recreational cannabis. Medical cannabis is used under the guidance of a trained medical professional and is carefully monitored to ensure that it is used safely and responsibly.

Another concern is the potential for side effects. While medical cannabis is generally well-tolerated, some patients may experience side effects such as dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. These side effects are usually mild and can be managed with adjustments to the dose or mode of administration. It’s also worth noting that medical cannabis can interact with certain medications, so it’s important to discuss any existing medications with a medical cannabis specialist before starting treatment.

Despite these concerns, the benefits of medical cannabis for certain patients cannot be ignored. A recent survey found that 76% of UK healthcare professionals believe medical cannabis should be more widely available to patients who could benefit from it. The survey also found that the main barrier to the wider adoption of medical cannabis was healthcare professionals’ lack of knowledge and understanding.

In conclusion, the history of medical cannabis in the UK is long and complex. Still, recent changes in legislation have made it easier for patients to access this potentially life-changing treatment. As medical cannabis specialists, we have seen first-hand the benefits that medical cannabis can provide to patients suffering from various conditions. We believe it is important to continue to research and explore the potential benefits of medical cannabis, while also taking steps to ensure that patients have access to safe and effective treatments. By working together, we can help to unlock the full potential of medical cannabis and improve the health and well-being of people around the world.