How to talk to your GP about medical cannabis?

Treatment with medical cannabis aka medical marijuana can help patients with chronic conditions, but for some patients, it’s difficult to bring up the topic with their GP. Interested in treatment with medical cannabis, but struggling to talk about your GP about it? We’re here to help.

At Cannabis Access Clinics, we’re often contacted by UK patients interested in treatment with medical cannabis (also known as Cannabis Based Medical Products, CBMPs or Medical Marijuana). Most of our patients want access to safe, effective treatment prescribed by a medical specialist. However, an issue facing patients that contact us, or their families/carers, is not knowing how to talk about medical cannabis with their GP, before visiting a specialist. Here we look at why it’s important to involve your GP in your treatment decision, and strategies to help in what can be a difficult conversation.

GPs are at the forefront of patient care in the NHS, and are under increasing pressure to see more patients in less time(1). GPs not only have to look after the thousands of patients at their practice, but are also expected to keep up to date with new medical research. Medical Cannabis, and the role it can have in the treatment of conditions such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and neuropathic pain, is an emerging area of medicine that many GPs aren’t yet experts in. Even the basics, such as the endocannabinoid system, and the role it has in regulating pain perception, mood and appetite is something that still isn’t taught in medical school.

Because this area of medicine is so new in the UK, there’s a realistic chance that when you visit your GP you might even know more about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system than your GP. Even if this feels like the case, it’s still important to involve your GP in the treatment decision, particularly so medical cannabis can be prescribed safely, and the exact treatment chosen takes into account your full medical history, previous and current medical conditions, family history and previous and current medications. Your GP is best placed to provide you this information that can then be passed on to your treating specialist.

If you’re struggling to talk to your GP about medical cannabis, here are some strategies that can help:

  1.     Explain why you’re interested in treatment. This may be that you’ve tried various treatments and nothing has worked, or you’ve struggled with side effects. Some patients are wanting to improve their sleep, or reduce their pain so they can have a better quality of life, or get back to work. Many patients we see in our clinic are looking to reduce, or cease opioid painkillers, and this is something that your GP will likely support, and there’s a growing body of research that supports cannabis as an adjunct treatment that can help reduce other painkillers.
  2.     Explain that you want to keep your GP involved in, and informed of your treatment. By your GP providing your medical history, the treating specialist doctor is then able to make a safe, informed treatment decision. A template referral is provided here, or your GP can provide their own referral if they prefer. Cannabis Access Clinics will inform your GP of the outcome of your consultation, and if treatment has been prescribed, any extra monitoring requirements that are needed. GPs are vitally important in the care of patients with chronic conditions/chronic pain, and it’s important that they are involved throughout.
  3.     Discuss the research. The recent NICE Guidelines published have been criticised by some in the medical community as being too conservative, with NICE recommending that more research is needed. At Cannabis Access Clinics, we are working with Applied Cannabis Research to conduct CACOS UK, which will track how all patients respond to treatment, whether their pain, mood, and quality of life improve, and whether they have any side effects. This helps ensure that treatment is prescribed safely and more effectively in the future.
  4.     Inform your GP that Cannabis Access Clinics offers free webinars targeted at GPs. These webinars are free for GPs and are a quick introduction to medical cannabis, the endocannabinoid system, and the role CBMPs can have in reducing opioids. The webinars are 30 minutes long and are run by Dr Lucy Davey. For more information, your GP can contact [email protected] or call 020 3998 0115. Our staff are always happy to talk to GPs if they have any questions or concerns.

If you’re still struggling to talk to your GP, feel free to email [email protected] for advice, or call 020 3998 0115 and one of our friendly, expert team will be happy to help. Other FAQ’s are answered here.

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