By Mags Houston – Head of Projects and Communications at Drug Science
Even before I joined the Drug Science team, the Drug Science podcast has been a vital and inspiring source of information for me when it comes to UK drug policy. I recall listening to a couple of early episodes as I prepared for my interview to join the team working on our medical cannabis study T21 back in 2020.
First up, episode #3 “Medical Marijuana” with Joss Stone, Suzi Gage and Hannah Deacon. What a fantastic group of people to come together to speak on such an important topic. It is worth noting the use of the word “marijuana” in the title pointing to how early on this episode was, as we now favour the word “cannabis” as it was actually anti-Mexican propaganda on the US government’s part which led to the derogatory use of the name “marijuana”.
I have always admired Joss Stone’s openness in this episode, as she shares about her dog which responded very positively to cannabis oil, and I have since heard of many people treating their pets successfully – off-the-record, of course – with cannabis/CBD oils. Despite the anecdotal evidence and some encouraging clinical studies, CBD products remain unauthorised for veterinary use.
Hannah Deacon, on the other hand, advocates for the use of medical cannabis in treating children, and was instrumental in getting the law changed back in November 2018. Her son, Alfie, remains one of only four people in the UK to have a whole plant prescription on the NHS. It baffles me how little has happened on this front since this episode was released three years ago – still we are fighting for children and adults to be granted NHS access to whole plant cannabis-based medicines.
The other episode that inspired me as I swotted up on my medical cannabis knowledge was #8 “Medical Cannabis, Mum & Me” with Lucy Stafford, one of the first patients to join our study T21. Lucy’s story is so extraordinary that it was published as a case study in the British Medical Journal in 2021. Having spent most of her teenage years in severe pain, dependent on opiates and a feeding tube, discovering medical cannabis has transformed her health and quality of life. She has gone on to co-found a leading patient advocacy organisation and embark on her own research as she studies for a Masters in Medical Neuroscience at the University of Sussex.
A couple of years ago, we had the privilege of welcoming medical cannabis prescriber and industry expert Prof Mike Barnes to the T21 team as Chief Medical Officer. In episode #49 “Medical Cannabis in the UK”, Mike discusses his “Ten Recommendations for Government” – these detail what the Government can do to address what is currently a real missed opportunity for the country to secure the economic and patient benefits of a new approach to medical cannabis and CBD well-being products. The list of recommendations includes giving GPs the right to prescribe – a battle we continue to fight this month (July 2023) in parliament with the ‘Protect Our Patients’ campaign, supporting Crispin Blunt MP’s Early Day Motion.
This year, we have heard from two more of the T21 team at Drug Science. This was a conversation hosted by then-CEO of Drug Science, David Badcock, with Chief Research Officer, Prof Michael Lynskey, and Research Officer for T21, Alkyoni Athanasiou-Fragkouli in episode #76 “T21”. They outline some of the data coming out of the ground-breaking observational study, now approaching its fourth year, and discuss how the pathway to access works from a patient point-of-view. Michael and Alkyoni are two of the people behind the recent published papers looking at three-month changes in medical cannabis patients, revealing significant reductions in pain severity in Chronic Pain patients, as well as consistent improvements in self-reported outcomes for Anxiety and PTSD patients. Whilst the data certainly speaks for itself, we need platforms like the Drug Science podcast to highlight what it is we’re learning and how we might be able to use these impressive results to inform more rational drug policy.
Needless to say, I do wish we could have seen more of a shift in the medical cannabis landscape since our podcast began four years ago; the issues raised in the earlier episodes remain almost entirely relevant today. It is crucial that the Drug Science podcast remains a platform that shines the light on all aspects of the medical cannabis industry as it evolves.