The divided UK eHCP opinions on Medical Cannabis

31.01.2023 | Health Strategy

The divided UK eHCP opinions on Medical Cannabis

The term “medical cannabis” or “medicinal marijuana” can be used when describing many forms of cannabis-based medicine used to relieve symptoms from various conditions. Many see medical cannabis as a complementary and alternative medicine option to relieve patients of their symptoms for conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), HIV, Crohn’s disease and more.

Although medicinal products containing cannabis-derivatives are regulated, many cannabis-products are available online from diverse sources. Because their quality and content are not always known, they may potentially be dangerous; for these reasons the topic of medical cannabis has historically for a long time been seen as taboo by HCPs.

However, in recent months many eHCPs have been discussing this topic, in fact over the last two years 1,209 UK eHCPs have used their social media profiles to discuss medical cannabis and its potential in healthcare.

 

Do eHCPs think medical cannabis is effective and, if so, for what conditions?

From the conversational analysis of UK eHCPs in the last two years, some have been identified as strong advocates, including the top 10 most frequently posting eHCPs who made up 30% of the conversation. Their support for medical cannabis is largely based upon its clinical efficacy in relieving symptoms of certain conditions. Of these conditions, epilepsy was heavily cited, with almost 200 eHCP posts supporting the use of medical cannabis for this condition in the past 2 years. 

As highlighted by the spike in conversation in January 2021, eHCPs showed their support online to Hannah Deacon. Ms Deacon was urging the government to act, following a notice by the Department of Health and Social Care that in just two weeks’ her son’s (Alfie) supply of a life-changing cannabis medicine from the Netherlands would stop because of Brexit.

This was not the last time that UK eHCPs responded to UK government policy. In December 2021, HCPs shared Labour MP for Middlesbrough Andy McDonald’s tweet, in which he expressed disappointment that the Medical Cannabis Access Bill was not successful..

Guidance regarding the use of medicinal marijuana (which include many barriers to access following concerns about the perceived lack of scientific evidence – only 18 people in the UK received a prescription in 2019), are vastly different in different countries. In the UK, medical cannabis can be legally accessed with a prescription to treat side effects including seizures from severe forms of epilepsy, nausea caused by chemotherapy and muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis. However, in the US the laws extend to conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and more.

Whilst UK eHCPs largely referenced these more familiar examples when discussing the benefits of medical cannabis, other conditions were also cited, including the potential benefits of medical cannabis for mental health. At CREATION.co we have previously covered the topic of psychedelics within mental health care with the recent arrival of psilocybin in the medical setting. Additionally, other holistic benefits including a reduction in alcohol consumption was found in a survey of over 2,000 people involved in the Canadian medical cannabis program. 

eHCPs note reluctance to prescribe medicinal cannabis

However, when discussing these potential benefits, eHCPs also noted the reluctance of some doctors to prescribe medical cannabis.

Moreover, even with the laws in the UK enabling some patients to access medical cannabis there is a belief amongst some eHCPs that many of their peers, including neurologists, “refuse to discuss the potential benefits of [medical cannabis] for children suffering daily seizures”. 

One of the reasons, identified within the data, for this reluctance to fully discuss the topic is that some eHCPs believe that increased acceptance and encouragement of medical cannabis from medical professionals could be seen as irresponsible. A key concern is that it may lead some patients to self medicate which has the potential to be dangerous.

What can we expect to see in the future of medicinal cannabis?

It is likely that eHCPs will play a role in implementing a change in policy for medical cannabis. Many eHCPs from various specialties frequently experience patient demands for medical cannabis and show a degree of openness to using it. Moreover, the United Nations removal of cannabis from the list of the world’s most dangerous drugs,  could pave the way for a new era of medical cannabis research

There was a wide gap in terms of willingness to provide medical cannabis though. While eHCPs with family members who could benefit from medical cannabis are using their online presence to promote policy change, most physicians say they lack knowledge of its beneficial effects, adverse effects and of how to advise patients, which may comprise barriers towards prescribing. 

CREATION.co will follow the latest developments in the eHCP conversation around medicinal cannabis. Our insights could help policy makers to shape policy in a way that ensures concerns, such as the quality and distribution of medical cannabis products, are addressed. 

Furthermore, insights from the online conversation may allow manufacturers of medicinal cannabis to understand unmet patient needs, learn why some eHCPs passionately support medical cannabis production, and hear potential concerns around specific products. A thorough understanding of eHCP concerns could inform trial design – ensuring the most appropriate efficacy and safety endpoints are included. Additionally, PAGs may be able to learn from clinical reluctance to prescribe, and understand what resources/changes may achieve greater levels of HCP support.

To keep up to date with the latest HCPs views on medical cannabis and other health related topics, sign up for our CREATION Knowledge eJournal, or get in touch.

 

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Meet the Author

Mark Sullivan

Mark uses his passion for data analysis to study the online conversations of HCPs and find actionable insights which are presented to teams in the pharmaceutical industry so they can make informed decisions.

Mark is an avid sports fan whether watching or playing. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends and watching films.

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