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Improving Medical Cannabis education for NHS doctors

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

As a recently qualified NHS doctor, I have been surprised by the very limited knowledge I have in Medical Cannabis. Medical Cannabis is an emerging area of medicine with research increasing in the field, however I do not feel confident in discussing this controlled drug with patients. I believe more needs to be done to educate medical students and clinicians in this field to be able to have an informed conversation with patients. 

This lack of knowledge extends to pain specialists too. An abstract published in the British Journal of Pain this year showed, in a survey of chronic pain trainees and consultants, 92.8% of respondents had been asked by patients to prescribe medical cannabis, but most did not have confidence in prescribing it. 

Education must start in medical school. During the early pre-clinical years, medical students are taught subjects such as physiology and pharmacology where the basic elements of all the physiological systems are covered. Cannabis is usually only mentioned as a substance of abuse, without delving deeply into the endocannabinoid system.  According to The UK Review of Medicinal Cannabis report published in April by the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group, almost two thirds of all the UK medical schools reported providing zero teaching on the role, function and/or disorders of the endocannabinoid system in humans, with less than 10% of them providing more than one session on the subject. In general, it was reported that almost half of all universities provide no sessions at all on any of five cannabis related topics that the report examined.  

Therefore, many NHS doctors are currently in a difficult position. They often find themselves not having all the necessary knowledge in the subject, potentially leaving patients in the dark with regards to Medical Cannabis.

It is true that we do not understand everything about Medical Cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, and preliminary research is still being conducted. However, it is worrying that doctors can graduate without being aware of even the presence of this system. The complete absence of teaching on the subject is something that needs to change, and it should be addressed in a centralised way so that all UK medical schools can implement the topic in their course curriculums.

Resources are urgently needed for the education on Medical Cannabis. A good beginning is through looking at the situation specifically for the UK and for UK patients. 

Cellen’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Benjamin Viaris de Lesegno, will be discussing Medical Cannabis in the UK, alongside the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society. Ben will be joined by Professor Mike Barnes and Hannah Deacon in a free webinar on 15th July 2020.

To sign up and participate in the webinar, please use the following link:

We would love to hear your thoughts on the webinar and your thoughts on this topic - please do email us at !


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