Medical cannabis more commonly prescribed in Brighton and Hove

A type of medical cannabis is being prescribed much more often by doctors in Brighton and Hove than in most other parts of England.

Nabilone, a drug which contains synthetic cannabinoids and is used to alleviate the side-effects of chemotherapy, was prescribed 371 times by family doctors across the country last year.

Of these, 53 – or one in seven – were for patients in Brighton and Hove, with 266 prescriptions issued over five years.

And other types of medical cannabis are being prescribed in small but growing numbers in Brighton and Hove, according to new figures.

The findings come as charities push for greater access to medical cannabis for those suffering from neurological and autoimmune conditions.

Medicines made from cannabis plants or synthetic cannabis can be used to treat a range of conditions – such as multiple sclerosis (MS), epilepsy and chronic pain.

However, they can be expensive to procure and some medical professionals disagree on how effective they are.

The most widely prescribed drug made from cannabis is a combination of dronabil and cannabinol which is used to treat MS and is commonly known by its brand name Sativex.

Figures from the NHS Open Prescribing service show that these drugs were prescribed 38 times by GPs (general practitioners) last year – up from 22 times in 2021.

The prescriptions were for 8,280 doses of the drug – up from 4,680 the year before.

Over the past five years, family doctors in Brighton and Hove have written 129 prescriptions for these medications.

These drugs are only used to treat certain types of MS and contain the active ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) which are found in cannabis plants.

While rarely prescribed, CBD is widely available in the high street – albeit in varying strength and quality. Meanwhile, substances containing THC remain illegal outside of specific medical uses.

The latest NHS data showed the number of prescriptions given by GPs rather than the number of patients. A single patient could have been prescribed a drug several times in one year.

Prescription medication can also be dispensed directly by hospitals – with previous research by the MS Society charity suggesting that more than half of Sativex prescriptions were issued by hospital doctors.

Across England, GPs wrote 2,953 prescriptions for Sativex and similar drugs last year – up 56 per cent from 1,893 the year before.

The MS Society has been campaigning to make Sativex more widely available and said that, despite increased availability, some health bodies would not currently fund the drug.

It said that the medication could have “life-changing effects” for those suffering from the condition, helping to alleviate stiffness and muscle spasms.

Across the country there were just 23 GP prescriptions for CBD-based medications last year, none of them in Brighton and Hove. These tend to be given to patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy.

The NHS is hesitant to prescribe these medicines more widely because of limited evidence of their effectiveness and high costs.

However, the charity Epilepsy Action said that access to medicinal cannabis could make a “massive difference” in reducing seizures when other treatments failed to work.

Daniel Jennings, senior policy and campaigns officer at the charity, said: “While it may not be effective for some people with epilepsy, the impact on quality of life in successful cases is huge.”

He said that these medications remained difficult to get hold of through the NHS and epilepsy patients faced large bills for buying them from private providers. Almost 90,000 private prescriptions were issued from 2018 to 2022.

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