Legalized medical cannabis five years on - Releaf reveals impact of negative stigma and lack of legal knowledge

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

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It is five years this month since a ground-breaking change in UK healthcare history happened – with doctors being able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines for the first time.

The treatments are intended for a number of chronic health conditions including chronic pain, severe IBS, sleep disorders, and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and motor neurone disease.

This decision marked the legalization of medical cannabis in the UK.

Releaf, the UK’s first all-in-one medical cannabis e-clinic has taken a look at the industry’s progress with the fifth anniversary in mind.  

The health-tech start-up says it is revolutionising patient access to medicinal cannabis treatments in the UK and is 'rooted in innovation and driven by a passion' for patient excellence, they say they are proud to be the only all-in-one clinic in the UK, seamlessly integrating all stages of the patient journey.

It says that despite the legalization of medical cannabis in 2018, not a great deal has changed for patients in the UK. It has also noted that those suffering from chronic health conditions still face significant challenges in accessing prescriptions from the NHS and many have expressed concerns over the lack of substantial progress.

Legal status of UK medical cannabis

Releaf’s most recent report​ sheds light on the pressing issue. It says it reveals that shockingly, while approximately 29.6 million people (50.2%) in the UK could potentially benefit from a medicinal cannabis prescription, only a mere 0.48% of the population have received one. The report also highlights a general lack of awareness, with 58.5% of respondents unsure of the legal status of medical cannabis in the UK, despite 83.7% acknowledging its potential to help manage various health conditions.

Mason Soiza, founder and CEO at Releaf​ said: "Since medicinal cannabis prescriptions were legalized in 2018, very few prescriptions have actually been issued. Our report reveals two factors that could be at least partially contributing to this; that people are unaware it is legally available via a prescription and that people still attach a negative stigma to it. 

 “But we know that beyond this, there are many more barriers stopping wide-spread access to medical cannabis in the UK, including a lack of specialist doctors and a strict regulatory landscape.

 “Despite the immense potential to enhance the quality of life for patients suffering from various chronic health conditions, the low awareness and lingering misconceptions about medical cannabis have hindered its broader adoption.”

Case study - a lifetime of challenges

The company has given a case-study as an example. Nigel Burt is a 46-year-old graphic designer from Guildford. 

He discussed with Releaf​ how he has faced a lifetime of challenges due to a multitude of congenital birth defects which left him with three holes in his heart, a missing kidney, and tailbone, the absence of four ribs and no sphincter muscle to his back passage. Numerous surgeries and dealing with the daily struggles to manage the side effects of his unique medical condition left him with low confidence and afraid to leave the house. 

“Thanks to my bowel issues, one of the most horrific things I had to endure was regularly carrying a month's supply of nappies into his nurse’s room at school. This was at age 11, but I still had the nickname “nappy rash” late into secondary school.” Nigel says.

Spending much of his free time extensively researching different ways to seek relief and improved quality of life, Nigel discovered that cannabis could effectively alleviate some of the most debilitating aspects of his condition. Nigel reported that when he consumed cannabis, his metabolism slowed down, cramps disappeared, and his gastrointestinal discomfort eased within minutes, and this kind of relief is well documented as a response from cannabinoid use​. For him, cannabis meant the ability to leave his house with confidence and trust his digestive system, rather than constantly fearing any accidents.

No access to desperately needed relief

However, obtaining and affording this medicinal relief presented challenges for Nigel. The cost and the inconsistent supply of his medicine in his rural village exacerbated the struggles he faced. Nigel shared that there were times, sometimes spanning weeks, when he had no access to the relief he so desperately needed, which took a toll on his well-being and mental health.

“It was a bit of a lottery; it was massively expensive, and you didn’t know exactly what you were getting and what else had gone into it. “You’re taking a risk, not just with the cannabis, there is also always a risk you could be arrested.”

Releaf said that despite 1.8 million people reporting illicit street cannabis use for medicinal purposes, only 30,000 have access to cannabis through a medical clinic due to technological limitations and poor patient experience. 

In a UK first, Releaf have created a custom-built patient platform, providing an all-in-one healthcare solution. This platform seamlessly integrates patient health records, clinical consultations, medication selection, pharmacy dispensing, and account management, putting patients in control of their treatment journey.

Patients can select their medication from the UK's widest range of cannabis-based medicines, including cannabis flower and oil, and Releaf branded, exclusive medications - all conveniently accessible through the platform. 

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