emma matthews

Fighting for Access to Medical Cannabis

The Financial Times released a story that formed, in essence, another point of evidence in the empirical trail of the value of medical cannabis. The story of Emma Matthews and her son, Louis Petit, is both heart-breaking and moving, and must thoroughly focus the attention of those in the best position to make a difference: Doctors.

The immense frustration of Emma’s fight to secure effective treatment for Louis is tragically all too common at present. While we should take the view that the identification of a safe and effective treatment for otherwise treatment-resistant seizure conditions is a positive thing, the evident resistance among too much of the healthcare profession, both individually and institutionally, is still causing devastating hardship.

Emma has been far from alone in this fight. Before we look at just some of these stories, though, let’s just remind ourselves of the critical fact at hand here. Cannabis-based medicines have safely and effectively treated intractable childhood epilepsy, providing a previously unattained quality of life for children who have experienced as many as hundreds of seizures a month.

More than just providing real treatment for these conditions, cannabis medicines have also provided relief from the powerful and often debilitating effects of excessive polypharmacy. Severe anti-seizure medications that have too often traded little to no relief for drastic side effects have been removed from treatment courses, and reducing polypharmacy is a benefit unto itself.

Hence, the frequency of ordeals faced by parents like Tannine Montgomery to help her daughter, Indy-Rose Clarry, is an indictment of the lack of clarity in understanding the value of medical cannabis. Forced to go abroad to source the prescription she knew would help Indy-Rose, the medicines were then confiscated upon return to the UK.

This was almost a wholesale repeat of the deeply upsetting scenes at Southend airport not months prior, when Emma Appleby, likewise forced to travel abroad to acquire her daughter Teagan’s prescription, had her supply confiscated by Border Patrol. While the medicines were ultimately returned amidst a flurry of public outrage, it is clear that the UK’s current approach to medical cannabis remains entirely deficient and unsustainable.

It is simply not right that this should be the case. The question of the efficacy of medical cannabis, if only in this explicit context, has been furnished with sufficient evidence to remove these harmful barriers to treatment. Neither did this conversation start with Louis, nor with Indy-May or Teagan.

Indeed, there was great optimism when the UK changed its laws to allow for the prescribing of medical cannabis in November 2018, after a swell of support following the stories of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell. Alfie’s mother, Hannah Deacon, as with Billy’s mother, Charlotte, had found long-sought relief in medical cannabis and passionately campaigned for the changes they hoped would provide lasting relief.

However, since November, the prevailing sentiment has been confusion and disappointment. The picture among the healthcare profession we see is not one of a broad, proactive will to engage with an emerging and vital area of medicine, but rather one of hesitance, skepticism and occasional absurdity.

Doctors will still largely not prescribe and the NHS will still largely not support prescriptions even where one can be found. The UK now remains in stasis. Despite a wealth of global evidence and active clinical practice in evolved healthcare markets like Canada and Israel, we sit in wait for guidelines from NICE, the findings of which are uncertain.

Meanwhile, patients with treatable conditions are left unsupported, in many cases in a manner that plainly defies logic. The case of Chelsea and Tamsin Leyland, two sisters, each with the same condition, and yet only one has been given a medical cannabis prescription, is nothing short of confounding.

The answer to these wild inconsistencies is brutally simple. Education.

If a doctor doesn’t understand the therapeutic potential of cannabis or feels uncomfortable operating with cannabis medicines, the impetus sits squarely on their shoulders to engage with training. It is a fundamental duty of clinicians to be equipped with the available tools to help their patients.

Medical cannabis is legally prescribable. There are numerous conditions for which its application is safe and effective. The educational resources are available. The databases of supporting evidence for the application of cannabis medicines are available.

It is our profound desire to stop reading these stories, as they speak to nothing less than the suffering of children. Yet, we know that these cases here don’t even begin to pay service to all of the parents struggling on behalf of their sons and daughters. For all the stories that make the news, many more families are also doing their level best to manage severe illnesses.

The Academy will do its best to keep track of these important stories. Educating doctors for the wellbeing of patients is our core mission. If you want to share your story, please write to us at [email protected].

Doctors. Start learning.

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