The facts about medicinal cannabis and where to find more information
The use of cannabis has been in the news recently following the Home Office’s decision to launch a review into the scheduling of cannabis and cannabis-based products for medicinal purposes. The topic of cannabis use is frequently discussed by patients on online forums.
What is medicinal cannabis?
‘Medical cannabis’ means any sort of cannabis-based medicine used to relieve symptoms. It can be bought online, but the quality and content is not regulated.
‘CBD oil’ or hemp oil are available to buy legally as food supplements from health stores, and many claim to be ‘medicinal cannabis’. Again, there is no control over their quality or what benefits they provide.
Will cannabis help my pain?
We don’t know. The British Pain Society states that there is no positive evidence to support routine use of cannabis-based medicines in pain management. They acknowledge that high quality research is lacking and call for ‘well-designed robust clinical trials and registries to evaluate the safety, efficacy and harms of cannabinoid preparations in pain management’.
Is cannabis safe?
Some cannabis products contain THC. THC is the chemical in cannabis that gets you ‘high’. We do not fully understand the risks associated with THC but they include psychosis and dependency.
Cannabis-based products are unregulated and a consequence of this means we do not know for certain what’s in them or if they are good quality, even the products bought legally in health shops.
The lack of research evidence about how cannabis-based products benefit people or what the risks and safety issues are mean that we cannot make claims about cannabis and its safety.
Is cannabis legal?
Cannabis is controlled as a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act. This means it is illegal to cultivate, produce, supply or possess the drug, except in accordance with a Home Office licence issued for research or other special purposes. Some forms of cannabis can be bought legally, such as those in health food shops. For more information about cannabis and the law, see the information from Release, the UK charity that gives non-judgemental information about drugs law.
Can my doctor prescribe cannabis?
Only some specialist doctors can prescribe cannabis-based products and only in exceptional circumstances when other treatments haven’t worked:
- children and adults with rare, severe forms of epilepsy
- adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy
Without evidence to support its use, it is extremely unlikely that a cannabis-based medicine could be prescribed for PSC today.
Should I tell my doctor I plan to take cannabis?
We do not recommend that you explore cannabis as an option for pain control. However, should you choose to do so, you should always let your doctor know so they can take into account possible side effects and interactions with other medicines you take.
Information on pain management
For information on ways to manage your pain, see our pain control information.
PSC Support position on the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes
Because of the limited evidence available to understand the risks and benefits of cannabis-based products, and the lack of regulation and control over what is in these products, their place in the treatment of pain in PSC patients is unclear. High quality research is needed to answer these questions. We therefore do not recommend the use of cannabis-based products for pain in PSC at this time. If you choose to source and use cannabis products yourself, we strongly recommend that you work with your doctor to understand any known potential interactions with your existing medications and so that you and your medical team are aware of potential side effects.
Home Office: Review of cannabis-based products for medicinal use
British Pain Society: Position Statement on Medicinal Use of Cannabinoids in Pain Management
Royal College of Physicians: Recommendations on cannabis-based products for medicinal use
Royal College of Anaesthetists Faculty of Pain Medicine: Position Statement on the medicinal use of Cannabinoids in Pain Medicine
NHS information on medicinal cannabis
Release: Information about drugs and law