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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

NICE Rejects Professor Mike Barnes’ Expertise in Cannabis as Medicine for a Second Time

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Professor Mike Barnes is without doubt the UK clinician with the most expertise in the use of cannabis as medicine. He should have been first choice as a member of the NICE committee charged with developing cannabis prescribing guidelines and, as reported here, its rejection of his application was greeted with astonishment. However, NICE relented and invited Professor Barnes to an interview. Now they have rejected him again.

Mike was responsible for obtaining the first medicinal cannabis licences for Sophia Gibson and Alfie Dingley and he has been involved in countless behind-the-scenes efforts to assist others. He joined the advisory board of CLEAR in July 2016, is an ambassador for the End Our Pain campaign and has since contributed his expertise to several other organisations including UPA. He is also  founder and director of education at the Academy of Medical Cannabis and founder of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society.

What concerned NICE in the first place was that in February 2018, Professor Barnes was appointed Chief Medical Officer of SOL Global Investments (known as Scythian Biosciences until June 2018). NICE was concerned this could be a conflict of interest. In fact, SOL is an international cannabis company with a focus on legal U.S. states. It has no investments or plans for the UK. When Mike told NICE this he was invited for an interview. The second letter of rejection reads:

“It was clear that you have relevant experience and expertise in this area however the interview panel remained concerned about possible conflicts of interest around your links to commercial organisations and your campaign work in the area which means that you have a publicly stated position on the topic.”

Few will regard that as a credible or logical reason for not having Mike on the committee. It’s actually absurd and really makes one wonder who makes these decisions and what planet they are on. If there were even a few alternative candidates to consider then it might make some sense but there don’t appear to be any alternatives to Mike Barnes. If there is anyone else in the UK with his clinical qualifications, knowledge, experience and expertise, no one at CLEAR has heard of them. It’s foolish and irresponsible to reject the only real source of knowledge that will command respect from other clinicians and for such very flimsy and poorly thought through reasons.

How many other clinicians on other NICE committees have commercial relationships with pharmaceutical companies or other medical organisations? How many have also expressed their professional or personal opinions on matters of medical policy and practice? Have they been disqualified for the cardinal sin of holding an opinion? Does NICE want people on this committee who are insufficiently informed or so shy that they do not express opinions?

Could this happen anywhere but in Britain? However patriotic and loyal one is to our country, this sort of crass stupidity and hypocrisy seems to be a special gift of the UK civil service.

NICE has Form for this Sort of Self-Defeating Bureaucracy

Its ‘Do Not Do Recommendation’ on Sativex is directly relevant and is based on on a flawed assessment of cost effectiveness which itself is founded on ignorance of the way cannabis works and a determination not to give proper weight to MS patient reports of the benefit they gain from Sativex. None of this is to overlook the unethical and profiteering price which GW Pharmaceuticals wants to charge for the medicine. Pharmacologically identical products are available from US and Canadian medical cannabis dispensaries for about one-tenth the price of Sativex.

NICE has also failed dismally on the Freestyle Libre glucose monitoring system for diabetics. This revolutionary new system not only makes life much easier for thousands of people, doing away with the need for endless finger pricking, it also dramatically improves blood sugar control promising huge reductions in the long term cost of diabetes to the NHS. It’s been available since 2014 and thankfully will now be prescribed on the NHS from April 2019 but for five years NICE has dithered, waffled and procrastinated on it, exactly as it is now doing with cannabis. Until now, just as with cannabis, it has claimed insufficient evidence but the real problem is NICE has a blinkered view and fails to look widely enough for the evidence it requires.

In a remarkable parallel with the way it is handling cannabis, NICE claimed there was no evidence that the Freestyle Libre led to better blood sugar control in type 1 diabetics, But the reason it claimed this was that there was no study supporting it that met NICE’s criteria and by impeding uptake of the device it was making such a study virtually impossible. NICE totally failed to give any weight to the many case reports of really dramatic benefits – exactly as it is doing with cannabis.

So, while our prime minister and the Home Office drugs minister have a direct financial interest in the UK’s only commercial producer of medicinal cannabis, yet direct and control drugs policy, when it comes to caring for patients, the only British clinician with relevant expertise is disqualified by a connection with an overseas cannabis company and for expressing an opinion than cannabis could help many people.


 

As a footnote, I should declare that I also volunteered to give my time to the NICE committee as a lay member and I too was rejected. It’s not for me to question its judgement unless I have good reason to but given its track record with Mike Barnes, I do have legitmate concerns. I first gave expert evidence to Parliament on the subject in 1983 and again in 2012 and 2016. Since 2011 I have worked intensively with hundreds of people who use cannabis as medicine and I lead the group that represents more such people than all other UK groups combined. I am also the author of the study Medicinal Cannabis: The Evidence, which has been translated into three languages and has been cited many times throughout the world. I know of no one in the UK with more relevant experience than me.

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What Is The Matter With Doctors About The Use Of Cannabis As Medicine?

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In the UK, most doctors, and the medical profession as a whole, are ignorant and bigoted about cannabis.

Their ignorance is not entirely their own fault.  For 50-odd years, since cannabis tincture was last available from UK pharmacies, they have been subject to the same relentless tide of propaganda from the Home Office, successive governments, the tabloid press and rabble-rousing politicians as the rest of society.  Many still regard cannabis as a dangerous drug consumed by degenerates that almost inevitably leads to mental illness.  The idea that it could be a safe and effective medicine which offers real benefits in a wide range of conditions is regarded as laughable.

However, there is no excuse for such laziness amongst a profession that regards itself as scientific.  And this is the charge – indolence, carelessness and laziness – that needs to be laid at those doctors at NHS England, the Royal College of Physicians and the British Paediatric Neurologists Association, that are responsible for the disgraceful ‘guidelines’ published two weeks ago.

Throughout Europe, Israel, Canada and the USA there are thousands of doctors who have made the effort to learn about cannabinoid medicine.  They have had to make extraordinary effort to do because even the most basic science is still rarely taught.  The endocannabinoid system is on the syllabus of very few medical schools, anywhere in the world, despite the fact we now know that it is the largest neurotransmitter network in the body and affects almost every aspect of our health and all medical conditions.  This is a dreadful indictment of the medical establishment but particularly of doctors in the UK, very few of whom have made any effort at all.

So while, to a degree, the ignorance can be forgiven, the bigotry cannot. It is cowardice. These doctors prefer to cover their own backs, protect themselves and prefer an absurd level of caution to doing what is in their patients’ best interests.  The incredibly low risk attached to cannabis in any form, at any age and particularly when under medical supervision, is simply overlooked.

Yes, the medical profession is known to be ‘conservative’ but in the case of cannabis this is an excuse.  Yes, we live in an increasingly litigious society but any truly professional doctor would not be cowed by such fear when the evidence is widely available, if they could be bothered to look. And what is this ‘conservatism’ of?  Modern medicine is barely a century old.  It is new in the history of our species and while the reductionist approach has brought great benefit and made huge advances, it is at the expense of thousands of years of human experience which has been dismissed as valueless.

These doctors may feel that the reforms have been foisted on them with no consultation and little notice but this is not a political game, it affects the lives of millions, from the youngest baby to the oldest, most senior citizens.  These doctors are failing in their professional duty.  For too long they have enjoyed being regarded with ultimate respect, rarely being questioned or challenged by their patients but those days are gone.  Most of the population is now far better informed than ever before, largely because of the internet and although this may cause doctors some problems, they have to learn to live with it.  They have to respect their patients, parents and carers and recognise more than ever before that healthcare is about co-operation, about working together. They have to come down from their ivory towers and start delivering truly patient-centred medicine.

 

Written by Peter Reynolds

November 13, 2018 at 4:57 pm

NHS Guidelines Offer People Who Need Cannabis As Medicine Two Choices. Go Private Or Carry On Being A Criminal.

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Go Private…

…Or Be A Criminal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the new Misuse of Drugs Regulations, which came into force on 1st November, the NHS has issued guidelines on cannabis for medical use, both for clinicians and for the public.

The best that can be said about these is that they are NOT the law.  In fact they are inaccurate, misleading and provide a seriously distorted picture both of the new regulations and of the evidence that is available on the use of cannabis as medicine.  The crucial points are these.  There are NO RESTRICTIONS on what conditions cannabis may be prescribed for.  As well as oils, raw herbal cannabis may also be prescribed – for vaping only, smoking is prohibited. All the decisions are entirely in the hands of the prescribing consultant.

Of course, the problem is your consultant likely knows nothing about cannabis.

Action is being taken on medical education but it is going to take time.  On the authority of the prescribing NHS consultant depends the funding to acquire whatever form of cannabis is required, in itself a difficult process as export licences will have to be obtained in the country of origin, either the Netherlands or Canada.  So for those that can afford it, going to a private clinic could be the quickest and most efficient way of getting the medicine that they need. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly clear, it may be the only way.

For most people, already using cannabis as medicine, this means they will carry on as before, either growing themselves, sourcing supply from friends, acquaintances or dealing with the criminal market, dealers who cannot be trusted, product of unknown quality.

My advice? In the present circumstances, I really believe the state no longer has any moral authority to prosecute anyone who can show they are using cannabis for medicine.  As the state has now recognised ‘conclusive evidence’ of medicinal benefit, the position has changed since the infamous R v Quayle case of 2005. I believe the Court would now support medical necessity as an argument.

So I advise you to grow.  If you are able and have the space, it is the best option. For an investment of a few hundred pounds, purchase a fully configured set up of tent, light, irrigation and ventilation. Grow autoflowering seeds, just one or two plants at a time will meet most individual needs. With modern equipment, it really is much easier and more reliable than you might think.

This is a radical change in my advice and in CLEAR policy but as explained it is now fully justified.

But for those that can afford it, there is now a huge unmet need that surely private operators will step in to fulfil?  It is a huge opportunity. It’s now perfectly legal to establish a private cannabinoid medicine clinic.  This will represent the cutting edge of the new medical cannabis market. It will require highly specialised doctors who are on the GMC’s specialist register. With a few months intensive training in Canada or the USA, possibly the Netherlands, an admin team that gets efficient with the procedures necessary to import.  This is the makings of a very exciting, profitable new, private medicine enterprise, charging very expensive fees.

I understand this will offend some but I believe it must be encouraged.  This is what will push the NHS to catch up.  Historically, advances in medicine have always happened in the private sector first. This is how cannabis medicine has prospered in other countries and it will be the same in the UK.

So, the problem is still far from solved. For some years, many people will continue to suffer unnecessarily but we have made huge strides and the war is won. Now we must make the peace.

Written by Peter Reynolds

November 5, 2018 at 12:26 pm

NICE Rejects UK’s Most Eminent Medicinal Cannabis Clinician From Advisory Committee

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Professor Mike Barnes, the UK’s Pre-Eminent Clinician In Medicinal Cannabis

If the UK was setting up an expert committee on fertility and Professor Robert Winston applied to join, he’d be welcomed with open arms. If we were setting up a committee on the origin of the universe and Professor Brian Cox applied, there’s no question he’d be appointed. But NICE, the National Institute for Healh and Care Excellence, yesterday rejected Professor Mike Barnes’ application to join its committee on cannabis-based products for medicinal use.

This follows the appointment of an expert panel in the summer for which FOI Requests revealed that not one member had any knowledge, experience or expertise in cannabis as medicine. And yesterday, prescribing guidelines were issued by NHS England which are absurd in how restrictive they are.  In effect they say ‘do not prescribe’.

The new regulations introduced by Sajid Javid are a breakthrough in UK drugs policy.  They offer tremendous hope to millions of people for whom conventional medicine has failed but the response of the medical establishment is dreadful.  It’s not doctors’ fault that they have been prevented from learning about cannabis but we now need all teh exprtise that we can possibly get.  Rejecting Professor Mike Barnes’ advice is ridiculous and someone, perhaps Sajid Javid himself, needs to step in and put this right.

Written by Peter Reynolds

November 1, 2018 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Health

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The Medical Establishment Shows Its True Colours On Cannabis. A Betrayal of Patients.

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NHS England has today published what it describes as prescribing guidance – ‘Cannabis-based products for medicinal use: Guidance to clinicians‘.

The actual guidance is buried within a mountain of bureaucratic doublespeak and requires downloading PDFs from the Royal College of Physicians (download here) and the British Paediatric Neurology Association (download here). In both cases, aside from chemotherapy-induced nausea, the guidance amounts to ‘do not prescribe’. This is a travesty of the intention of these reforms and demonstrates how the medical establishment is more interested in protecting its self-interest than in helping patients gain the benefits of cannabis as medicine. Cowardly and scared are the two words which best sum this up.

It’s no surprise that doctors in the UK are ignorant about the use of cannabis as medicine. They have been subject to the same relentless torrent of reefer madness propaganda from government and media as the rest of society. They have been prevented even from learning about the endocannabinoid system by the authoritarian policy of prohibition and any doctor in the UK who has any experience of cannabis as medicine will have been in breach of professional ethics as well as the law.

But it’s deeply disappointing that the authors of these documents have made no effort to understand the excellent work that is being done by medical professionals in other countries.  The Royal College of Physicians and the BPNA will be a laughing stock across the world in the many more enlightened and educated jurisdictions where patients are gaining great benefit. But of course, this isn’t a laughing matter. In fact, these two so-called professional bodies are making it a tragedy.

Clearly, what is in the best interests of patients is that we must bring in expertise from overseas.  There are eminent doctors abroad who will be glad to step in, particularly in private practice, and pick up this baton which the NHS has fumbled and dropped in the most clumsy fashion.

This is a huge opportunity for those in private medicine who can set aside these cowardly excuses and make the most of the new regulations for patients who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it.

For the average Briton with chronic pain, Crohn’s Disease or an epilpetic child this is a kick in the teeth from the profession that is supposed to care for them.

Written by Peter Reynolds

October 31, 2018 at 6:14 pm

Professor Mike Barnes On The Urgent Need For Medical Education In Cannabis.

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See ‘Cannabis Advocates Really Need To Stop Accusing Doctors of Being Bribed By Pharmaceutical Companies.’

The urgent need now is physician education. Doctors just don’t know about the endocannabinoid system. They have never been taught it and thus don’t understand it and certainly don’t appreciate the benefit of medicinal cannabis. Only education will slowly change entrenched positions.

The launch of the Academy of Medical Cannabis next week will go some way to help – see the website.  I hope that the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, also launched next week, will enable like-minded doctors to ‘spread the word’ and provide patients with a contact to a trained and knowledgeable clinician to prescribe for them.

Professor Mike Barnes is a consultant neurologist and has been a member of the CLEAR Advisory Board since July 2016.

Written by Peter Reynolds

October 28, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Cannabis Advocates Really Need To Stop Accusing Doctors of Being Bribed By Pharmaceutical Companies.

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There may well be some doctors who are corrupt and there are still, despite much improvement, serious questions over the relationship between pharma companies and doctors but the idea that every member of the Faculty of Pain Medicine who signed that letter to the Times is taking bribes is ridiculous.

The real reason is ignorance and that’s not an attack on doctors, it’s a reason.  They have been subject to the same relentless torrent of reefer madness propaganda from government and media as the rest of society.  They have been prevented even from learning about the endocannabinoid system by the authoritarian policy of prohibition and any doctor in the UK who has any experience of cannabis as medicine will have been in breach of professional ethics as well as the law.

CLEAR has been working with some of the very few enlightened doctors since way before the cause of cannabis as medicine became fashionable.  Working with members, their MPs and doctors, we have organised lobbying of ministers and MPs over more than the past 10 years. In several instances we had doctors, both GPs and consultants, contact the Home Office to enquire about obtaining a licence for a specific patient.  In at least three instances these doctors were then contacted by Home Office officials who warned them off using threats and intimidation.  Shocking but completely true.

It is and it always has been government – stupid, prejudiced, bigoted and self-opinionated politicians – who have prevented access to cannabis, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.  This means that there has been no education at all and doctors are as poorly informed as everyone else. They’re also, and understandably, worried, even scared.  They don’t understand cannabis, many will not even have heard of the endocannabinoid system and they are concerned about being sued, professionally disgraced, losing their job and now of being swamped by patients demanding cannabis about which they know nothing.

Of course, it was thoroughly stupid to assert in the letter that “the evidence suggests that the prescribing of cannabis (containing the psychoactive and addictive tetrahydrocannabinol component) will provide little or no long-term benefit in improving pain and may be associated with significant long-term adverse cognitive and mental-health detriment.”

There is no reasonable interpretation of the evidence that supports this. THC can be addictive in a very modest sense but the withdrawal symptoms and negative effects are trivial compared to those from opioids which doctors prescribe readily and frequently.  There is excellent evidence from many sources that cannabis containing THC and CBD benefits pain and while there may be some cognitive and mental health effects, to suggest they are significant or even come remotely close to those from opioids is false and in opposition to the evidence.

I repeat, doctors aren’t saying this because they are bribed by pharmaceutical companies, it’s because they have no idea what they are talking about.

The urgent requirement now is medical education.  It is amazing how radical the new regulations are and many people still don’t seem to realise how far the government has gone.  They go much further than we at CLEAR had even dared to dream and the definition of cannabis-derived medicinal product (CDMP) is very broad.  When we were consulted on it by the Department of Health and MHRA we never thought they would accept all our recommendations.  They enable the prescription of every form of cannabis, including flower, oil and concentrate, provided they meet quality standards.

So the problem with the law is gone. Literally, it is all over. It is absolute and total victory. Now two big problems remain. Education is the first but this is being addressed.  NICE has acted commendably fast to start recruiting a panel to advise on prescribing guidelines and Professor Mike Barnes, CLEAR’s scientific and medical advisor has already developed a series of introductory online training modules. Early in November his Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society launches and this will be an important forum for the future.

The second big problem is supply.  Where are the CDMPs to come from?  Sativex falls into the definition and this was GW Pharma’s big opportunity to act responsibly and imaginatively.  The possibility still exists that it will substantially reduce the absurd, rip-off price that it has been charging for Sativex since 2010.  If it had the imagination it could very easily turn over some of its production to unlicensed CDMPs for which there is now a ready market. I fear that it is wedded to licensed products only, hugely expensive and, in my judgement, unnecessary clinical trials and very high prices for its end products.  If so, then I will be selling my shares.  I admire the company for its courage, innovation and high standards but if it does not seize this opportunity then I believe it is failing in its duty to shareholders and also to Britain, which let’s remember has gifted it a privileged and unique opportunity in the world.  Fail now to provide for the needs of UK patients and that amounts to betrayal.

So for now the only possible sources of supply that meet the definition will be Bedrocan in the Netherlands and some of the Canadian licensed producers. US companies cannot export.  Neither can the Israeli companies and they would also face a thoroughly deserved boycott of their products even if Netanyahu was to issue export licences.  Bedrocan can barely meet demand from its existing customers and there is talk of it having difficulties with a ceiling on its export licenses. Only some Canadian producers meet the required GMP quality standards and they too are facing shortages as they also supply the recently legalised recreational market which is seriously short of product.

So the Home Office has to act and start issuing domestic production licences and it has to do so immediately.  Whether it will, remains to be seen.  Its drugs licensing department is a shambles, staffed by officials who do not even understand the law they are supposed to administrate, who regularly give different, contradictory answers on different days and exceed their lawful authority as a matter of course.  If there is a ‘hostile environment’ for immigration in the Home Office, for drugs licensing and cannabis production it has been hostile but also aggressive, paranoid and stupid ever since the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The urgent need is for prospective British cannabis producers to mobilise their MPs and for immediate pressure to be brought on the Home Office at the highest level.  Sajid Javid has shown he can act decisively.  Expanding domestic cannabis production is the inevitable next step in what he has already achieved.  He must act now.

So the future in the UK for those who need cannabis as medicine is brighter than could ever have been imagined.  The next steps are challenging but nowhere near as difficult as the campaign to reform the law that CLEAR has fought for nearly 20 years.  Don’t blame doctors, continue to blame the government and hold their feet to the fire until they act on medical education and cannabis production as they must.