EducationA guide to UK medical cannabis cards for cancer patients

A guide to UK medical cannabis cards for cancer patients

8 min read

Sam North

A guide to UK medical cannabis cards for cancer patients


While medical cannabis should never be viewed as a straight-out cure to cancer, it has long been recognised as an effective treatment option, and a powerful addition to any holistic cancer treatment plan to help manage the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of some of its treatments.

The NHS currently only prescribes medical cannabis for three specific health concerns:

  • Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Two rare forms of treatment resistant epilepsy

And while the NHS will not prescribe medical cannabis for any other conditions, and are even pretty restrictive on the three conditions listed above, they acknowledge the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

Private clinics have the ability to prescribe cannabis based medical products for a much wider range of health issues, including the pain, anxiety, appetite, and sleep issues that so often go hand in hand with cancer treatment.

And while these private prescriptions may come at a cost (although this cost is anything but prohibitive for the majority of UK residents), they provide an effective and safe way to access medical cannabis for those who need it most.

So, what about getting a medical cannabis card?

Although holding a medical card is not a legal requirement here in the UK for patients that are receiving cannabis based treatments, it is a great way to ensure that they are protected and safe from any potential legal issues.

In this article, we will have a brief look at the science behind medical cannabis and the reduction of cancer symptoms, as well as run you though the entire prescription process, and explain how the medical cannabis card from Releaf can provide you with additional protection.

How does medical cannabis help cancer patients?

Again, it is imperative to point out that medical cannabis is not a cure for cancer. Rather, it can be used to manage the pain, nausea, and other symptoms that are associated with the disease.

Cannabis boasts a rich and well-documented history of medical applications. As far back as 2800 BC, it appeared in the pharmacopoeia of Emperor Shen Nung, revered as the father of Chinese medicine. The therapeutic potential of cannabis was also recognised recorded by other ancient civilisations, including Indian Hindus, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans. These ancient texts documented cannabis as a remedy for a wide range of health issues, including arthritis, depression, amenorrhoea, inflammation, pain, loss of appetite, and asthma.

So, what is the growing body of clinical research showing regarding medicinal cannabis and the reduction of cancer symptoms, while also easing the heavy burden that cancer treatment can have on the body?

For pain management, we can look at the 2020 clinical review, titled "Cannabis and cannabinoids in cancer pain management". It found that:

"Good preclinical animal data and a large body of observational evidence point to the potential efficacy of cannabinoids for cancer pain management"

These results are backed up by both anecdotal evidence, and other clinical papers, all pointing to the potential action cannabis can have in pain management.

When it comes to cannabis and reducing the nausea that is associated with chemotherapy, we can look at both "An efficient new cannabinoid antiemetic in paediatric oncology", from 1995, and "Cannabinoids for control of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting: quantitative systematic review", from 2001. Both pieces of research came to the conclusion that the application of cannabinoids is effective in controlling chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting better than conventional anti-emetics, with the earlier study finding that all of the participants were able to cease vomiting completely after cannabinoid treatment.

Medical cannabis can also help reduce the anxiety and stress that cancer patients experience, while also helping patients find restful sleep. This particular paper from 2019, titled "Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series" showed that almost 80% of the 72 adult participants that were administered a CBD product found it to be remarkably effective in treating their anxiety and insomnia.

Understanding medical cannabis prescriptions for cancer

In principle, the process for getting a medical cannabis prescription for cancer related health issues is very straightforward. Only doctors that are on the General Medical Council’s Specialists Register can prescribe medicinal cannabis products, and they must be licensed to do so by the UK Home Office.

This means that there is very little chance that your GP will be able to prescribe you medical cannabis, which is why many patients opt for private clinics that specialize in medical cannabis treatments.

Of course, there is some variance in the process depending on the clinic you choose, but in most cases:

  • You will first need to fill out a medical questionnaire (either online or in person), and provide any relevant medical history/documentation they may require. This will include your Summary Care Report, which you can request from your GP. Once this has been reviewed, you will be invited to attend a consultation with an experienced doctor.
  • During the consultation, your doctor will assess whether medical cannabis is suitable for you, and discuss the various treatment options (including dosages and delivery methods) that are available.
  • Once your doctor has approved a treatment plan, they will write a prescription, to be filled by an approved pharmacy. Most clinics have a pharmacy on site, but if not, they can provide a list of approved suppliers.
  • If you do decide to choose Releaf as your medical cannabis provider, then you will also receive a unique and secure Releaf Medical Cannabis Card. This card provides additional protection for patients that are taking medical cannabis treatments and ensures that they can access the treatment they need without fear of legal repercussions. You will be provided with a digital copy as soon as the doctor fills out your prescription, and the physical copy will be delivered with your first package of medication.

Challenges and limitations of medical cannabis treatments

It’s important to highlight that getting a prescription for medical cannabis does not mean that you have free rein to select whatever treatment(s) you want and adjust them as you see fit. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You will be given a prescription for a specific form of medical cannabis for a specific period. If you want to change this prescription, you will need to go back to the specialist to get them to update it.

And while CBD products are available seemingly everywhere, it’s critical to remember that medical cannabis products can only be prescribed by a doctor who is licensed by the Home Office. These over-the-counter CBD options have far less regulatory oversight than those that have been classed as medical cannabis products.

For the best chance at finding positive health outcomes from medical cannabis, it’s essential that you follow the instructions of your doctor and pharmacist, adhere to the prescribed dosages, and keep track of any changes in symptoms. Of course, if anything seems amiss or you experience any new side effects, then please get in touch to our clinical team as soon as possible. They are there to help you with any medical cannabis related queries.

As well as following your prescription, it’s essential to ensure that you have access to a comprehensive support network so that you can discuss your treatment plan with family members, friends, or medical professionals. This will give you the best chance of finding success with medical cannabis treatments for cancer related health issues.

Medical cannabis for cancer in brief

While the chance of cancer patients being able to receive a medical cannabis prescription through the NHS is higher than sufferers of most other conditions, they are rarely offered as a first line treatment, with the patient needing to jump through a range of proverbial 'hoops' before they are able to explore this as an option.

Thankfully, private clinics such as Releaf are able to provide specialist consultations to those that may benefit from medical cannabis treatments, making it easier than ever for cancer patients to access the treatment they need.

Moreover, with a unique Releaf medical cannabis card included in all of our monthly packages, you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your medication is legally prescribed and safe to use.

So if you are looking for an alternative form of treatment for cancer related health issues, then medical cannabis could be just what you require. With the help of Releaf’s clinical support team, you can find the best course of action for your condition and take back control.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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