RCGP publishes guidance for GPs on cannabis-based medicines and products

Publication date: 17 December 2018

Practical advice for GPs to support them to have informed conversations with patients about medicinal cannabis should the issue arise during consultations, has been published by the Royal College of General Practitioners.

The publication of 'Cannabis-based medicines: an interim desktop guide' follows a change in the laws governing access to cannabis for medicinal use earlier this year.

Only doctors registered on the GMC's specialist register, and who have the relevant specialist knowledge and expertise can prescribe cannabis-based products to patients in situations where there is an unmet clinical need.

Whilst GPs are not able to prescribe cannabis, the new guidance recognises that the recent legal change may lead to 'increased demand on GPs for information and referrals for a range of conditions'.

It gives an overview of the current legal situation regarding medicinal cannabis, the different forms it is available in, the conditions for which there is some, if limited, clinical evidence of benefit, and the potential side-effects of taking cannabis. The guidance also includes signposting to further resources for GPs and patients, and some FAQs.

Cannabis is a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 2001. However, two forms of cannabis-based products - Sativex and Nabilone - can now be legally prescribed. Cannabidiol (CBD) is also legally available as herbal supplement and is not a prescription medicine.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: "The decision to legalise medicinal cannabis for some patients, where there is an evidence-base that it could benefit them, is welcome.

"However, the treatments that have become legal are only able to be prescribed by specialist doctors if they have a patient with an unmet clinical need – and so it will affect a relatively small number of patients, many of whom will likely already be known by their specialist doctor.

"GPs will not be able to prescribe patients medicinal cannabis, but as the first point of contact for the vast majority of patients in the NHS it is important that we are aware of the legal situation and current clinical evidence around medicinal cannabis.

"This desktop guide aims to be a quick reference guide for GPs, providing them with the information they may need when having discussions with patients who as them about cannabis, and to make it clear to patients that GPs are not in a position to prescribe cannabis."

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633/7574/7575
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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