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An Interview with Professor Mike Barnes

Professor Michael Barnes, the Director of Education at The Academy, is a leading medical cannabis expert and consultant neurologist who has dedicated his career to developing medical cannabis based treatments and providing education in this area. Mike was famously involved in getting Alfie Dingley, a young PCDH19 Epilepsy patient, the first UK license for medical cannabis treatment prior to the subsequent law change in 2018. Mike remains an instrumental figure in the fight for improved medical cannabis legislation.

We caught up with Mike to find out his views on the current issues around medical cannabis regulation and treatment, what he thinks about the controversial NICE guidelines and what he’s got planned next with The Academy.

Mike, you’re considered an expert in the medical cannabis industry and have been instrumental in progressing awareness of medical cannabis treatment in the UK. How did you become interested in Medical Cannabis?

I started being interested when I was working at MS clinics and found that 50% of people in that clinic were using cannabis. That was 15 years ago! Then I was involved in the development of Sativex (the first cannabis medicine) and my interest continued from there.

When did you start prescribing?

I was involved with getting the very first license for Alfie Dingley before the law change in Summer 2018.

Alfie Dingley’s case was hugely influential. What can we learn from his case study?

We learn that that the effect can be remarkable. Alfie went from 400/500 seizures a month to none at all for about a year. Extraordinary.

We realise that many healthcare professionals may be hesitant about investigating medical cannabis treatments in the current regulatory climate. But why should medical professionals be more aware of the benefits and risks of medical cannabis?

Many doctors have now been asked by their patients about prescribing cannabis. Medical professionals have an obligation, in my opinion, to at least understand the plant and its potential benefits and drawbacks even if they do not want to prescribe.

You’ve been operating in the medical cannabis industry since your involvement with GW Pharma in the 2000s, so you’ve seen a wave of legislative and regulatory changes since beginning your career. Are there any improvements here and what are some of the remaining challenges people might face when trying to prescribe medical cannabis?

The fundamental problem here is knowledge. Doctors just do not understand cannabis and what to prescribe, in what dose and in what format. Education is key. We also need a better and more efficient supply chain as it can take weeks to get the product into the country at the moment.

With this in mind, what would you say to someone who’s sceptical about prescribing or using medical cannabis?

Learn about it and see if your prejudices fade when you understand the plant and its properties.

What are some of the most important conditions that medical cannabis can treat?

Pain is the highest on any list followed by epilepsy, nausea, spasticity and anxiety.

Medical cannabis treatments have been suggested for mental health conditions like PTSDOCDAnxiety and Depression. How can medical cannabis help in this area?

Cannabis can definitely help anxiety and PTSD (with CBD only products) – there’s good evidence here. There’s some evidence for use in OCD and as an antipsychotic (using CBD products only). Sadly, there’s limited evidence for use in depression although it’s widely used illegally for that indication.

NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recently released updated guidelines regarding the use of medical cannabis products by the NHS. What are your thoughts on this?

The guidelines are a waste of paper. No understanding of the plant and an obsession with double blind trials which are not the best form of evidence for cannabis and generally will not work. They’re hopeless frankly, and will hold the development of this medicine back by 5 years or more. Disgraceful.

Regarding the updates then, is there anything that still needs to be done to make medical cannabis more accessible for patients?

More doctors need to prescribe!

Why did you decide to create The Academy and how do you think it’s changing the medical cannabis landscape?

We need teaching and The Academy was the first such online forum. It’s really helped to change attitudes through the 200+ people who have now been involved in the programme.

You’re hosting some upcoming medical cannabis training courses with us, what will doctors learn on this training with TAOMC?

They will learn about the history of the plant, the endocannabinoid system, the plant itself, the cannabinoids and terpenes and how to dose and prescribe. They will also learn about the evidence base, the side effects involved in treatment and the contraindications of the drug. At the end of the day they’ll hopefully be more confident about prescribing.

Will there be any further support for attendees after the event?

Yes, we can provide ongoing mentoring – we think this is really important.

Are there any tools you recommend that doctors could use to learn more about medical cannabis treatment if they can’t make it to the training courses?

I recommend using the online Academy modules. Go to the website for more information.

Any final thoughts for doctors who are unsure about coming to the training event?

Try it and see – you will be surprised at the evidence and the usefulness of the plant.

For more information on our medical cannabis doctor training or to sign up to the course click here.

The rest of our comprehensive resources on medical cannabis are available on our website. We urge anyone considering the use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.

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