The RCP is kicking off a mass drug trial to study the effects of medicinal marijuana.
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Later this week the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP)—one of the UK's leading medical bodies—will launch a new medical study that will see 20,000 patients administered medicinal cannabis over a two-year period.
Once underway the project will be one of the largest medical studies in European history with a specific focus on drug use, and is intended to create a large body of evidence on the use of cannabis as a healthcare treatment option.
The president of the RCP, Wendy Burn, said that the project will, "address the paucity of evidence for the use of cannabis-based medicinal products in all health settings, including mental health."
"We hope that this project, along with other research such as more much-needed randomised control trials, will continue to build the evidence on CBMPs," she said.
The trial, known as Project Twenty21, will study the effects of medicinal cannabis on patients suffering from a wide variety of conditions, including epilepsy multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, Tourette's syndrome, anxiety disorder and those with chronic pain. In fact, it's estimated by the British Pain Society that as many as 28 million people living in the UK will suffer from chronic pain at some point in their life.
This research will then be used to lobby policymakers that the drug should be more widely available, and hopefully convince the NHS to prescribe the drug for a wider range of conditions.
While medicinal cannabis was legalized over a year ago in the UK, advocates complain that many patients are still struggling to gain access to the drug.
There are more than eight million people with disabling chronic pain in the UK and medical cannabis is still out of reach for them. Trials like Project Twenty21 could provide evidence for safely and effectively prescribing these medicines that has the potential to provide pain relief and other life-changing benefits for some of these patients. President of the British Pain Society, Dr Arun Bhaskar
Doctors have also been wary about prescribing cannabis to patients due to a lack of evidence—as UK research bodies have done little study in the area—confirming its efficacy as a treatment option. Additionally, some critics have expressed fears that the medical treatment potential of cannabis has been over-hyped by an industry more concerned with profit than safety.
However, according to Professor David Nutt, from the medical research body Drug Science, "medical cannabis is still out of reach for far too many."
"Patients are left untreated, in significant debt from the cost of private prescriptions, or criminalised as they are forced to turn to the black market."
"They don't deserve any of this, and the situation with prescribing desperately needs to change," he said.
The trial is expected to conclude in 2021.
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