Alex Fraser, Patient Access Lead with Grow Pharma, on the recently-launched ‘Open Cannabis’ campaign
THE truth is there are a huge number of patients with chronic pain and other symptoms who are unaware that cannabis medicines are a legal option for them.
These people deserve to have access to the right information so they can make the best choice for their health – this is why I’m a passionate supporter of the Open Cannabis campaign.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease a little over ten years ago. At the time, I had no idea what this would mean for me. Looking back, I know now why my doctors were so solemn when they delivered the diagnosis.
Crohn’s is one of a plethora of chronic (long-term) conditions that can cause constant, severe pain for which there are few prescribed treatments. Fewer still that are tolerable for a lifetime. Like many immune disorders, there is no cure.
For the next seven years, I was forced to break the law in order to mitigate my pain, whilst also campaigning for legal access to the one thing that helped – cannabis.
Had I not found cannabis early on I honestly don’t know if I would still be here. Chronic pain plays a role in one in 10 suicides and about 30% of those who suffer with chronic pain have suicidal thoughts. I was certainly one of them.
You can imagine my joy when, in November 2018, the UK Government rescheduled cannabis medicines, enabling access to a wide range of medicines, via private prescriptions, for many different conditions.
UK Law Change ‘Too Late For Me’
The change came too late for me. I had bowel resection surgery in 2017 and have been in remission since. But Crohn’s doesn’t go away and my symptoms could return at any time.
Knowing that I can now go to a specialist doctor and discuss cannabis medicines in a legal, prescribed context, is a reassurance that, should my disease return, I won’t be forced back to criminality.
With my current role as Patient Access Lead with Grow Pharma, a leading supplier of cannabis medicines, I am more informed than most on how to access a prescription.
Others are not so fortunate…Patients of all ages with many serious conditions – including fibromyalgia, arthritis, IBD and multiple sclerosis (to name but a few) – are often unaware that cannabis medicines present a legal alternative for them.
With nearly half of people over 55 also suffering with chronic pain, this is an issue that we cannot ignore. Polling undertaken by the Open Cannabis campaign has shown that these age groups are actually very open to considering cannabis medicines as a treatment option, but don’t know how to access them.
Public-Facing Awareness Campaign
Open Cannabis is a public-facing information and awareness campaign that primarily targets people who do not yet use cannabis medicines, rather than existing patients.
The website has helpful resources for patients, doctors and a useful ‘find a clinic’ feature for those looking at taking the next step. The campaign is supported by organisations from across the cannabis industry including patient groups, doctor groups, clinics and suppliers.
The campaign hopes that increasing general awareness of cannabis medicines, the symptoms they are used to treat and how to access them, will build momentum that will in turn help lower the price of medication making it more cost effective for patients and more likely to be considered for the NHS.
NHS access is the aim of many in the medical cannabis industry, myself and Grow Pharma are no exception. Private systems currently present an alternative in the absence of NHS access, but are in no way a barrier, more an enabler, for progress toward this important end goal.
Suppliers like Grow are reducing costs, building reliable supply chains, educating healthcare professionals and helping to develop the evidence base required by NICE for NHS access with both clinical trials and real-world data gathering schemes.
All of this sounds very positive, but won’t help patients if they remain in the dark, uninformed of the current situation and the options available to them. This is why Open Cannabis is so important.
It may appear as simply a single point of reference for information on cannabis medicines, but to me, as a patient and advocate, it represents a call to action: That we NEED to start having these all-important conversations, informing patients, doctors and the general public, removing judgement and stigma and progressing access in a way that works for those who need it.
Healthcare professionals, the cannabis industry and existing patients need to help educate the wider public, to ensure that everyone that might stand to benefit from cannabis medicines has access to the right information to make the best decisions for themselves and their health.