Former Health Minister Ann Keen will chair a new patient advocacy group designed to help more Brits gain access to medical cannabis.

1.4 million British patients are turning to illicit cannabis to treat chronic medical conditions.

It follows a new poll suggesting that 1.4 million British patients are turning to illicit cannabis to treat chronic medical conditions. Previous reports have suggested that anywhere between 50,000 and 1.1 million Brits are buying black market marijuana to treat their conditions, but the data samples used have been criticized.

The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis aimed to provide a more robust picture, and it has just conducted the largest survey of its kind in partnership with YouGov. They polled 10,179 people from across the UK during a week in October 2019 and the results suggested that 2.8% of the adult population is buying street-available cannabis for medical problems, equating to 1.4 million people. Fifty-six percent of those using cannabis in this way said they did so on a daily basis.

​“​These figures demonstrate the vast number of patients in the UK with chronic and debilitating diagnosed conditions who feel they have no choice but to expose themselves to all the risks of accessing a medicine that works from the criminal market,” said Keen, who worked as a registered nurse before moving into politics. Keen, who is now a fellow of the Royal College of Nursing and Queens Nursing Institute, added that alternative solutions – controlled and safe, but innovative – must be explored as soon as possible.

She will chair the Cannabis Patient Advocacy and Support Services group, which will strive for better patient access and care in the regulated medicinal cannabis framework in the UK.

The UK legalized medical cannabis in October 2018, but stringent NHS guidelines have prevented doctors from prescribing it. However, the NHS will now allow local authorities to fund prescriptions of Epidyolex for treatment of two forms of epilepsy – Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes – and Sativex for multiple sclerosis sufferers.

Keen will work with charities, patients, and frontline caregivers on improving access to medical cannabis.

Many parents of sick children have campaigned passionately for the NHS to relax its guidelines, and they now have a high-profile ally. Star Trek and X-Men star Sir Patrick Stewart has declared that cannabis is the only medicine that can relieve him from the agony of arthritis, and wants doctors to be able to prescribe it on the NHS.

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