Prescribing CBD oil still is relatively unexplored territory for physicians in terms of legal liability. But medical boards want clarity. There are four different ways to get a prescription for CBD oil or medical cannabis products. Learn how to get a cbd oil prescription in Canada. Information from the NHS website on medical cannabis.
CBD oil and physician liability
Cannabidiol oil (CBD), a cannabinoid derived from cannabis that doesn’t create the “high” associated with marijuana since it lacks the cannabinoid THC, is gaining interest among health practitioners for its long list of potential benefits.
CBD oil for pain is one of the most widely discussed medical uses for the oil, although the list is much longer and includes seizure reduction, cancer treatment, anxiety relief and more cosmetic purposes such as acne reduction, among others.
There are three main issues with CBD oil for physicians who might prescribe it, however. First, cannabis and CBD oil remain illegal under federal law since it is classified as a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. More than 23 states have decriminalized its use for medical purposes, but this still comes in conflict with federal law and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Going near CBD oil in a healthcare setting is tricky.
Second, its status as an illegal substance makes it hard to test and run clinical trials that definitively prove its medical efficacy. This creates a vicious circle where marijuana and CBD are not fully legal because there is no data on its safety and efficacy, and its medical use in not proven because there is not enough testing due to being illegal.
Then there’s the liability of prescribing CBD oil and any product related to cannabis. Does the regulatory environment and the risk of malpractice outweigh the benefits for patients? This article will focus on this third challenge related to CBD oil for medical use.
Currently, prescribing CBD oil still is relatively unexplored territory for physicians in terms of legal liability. But medical boards want clarity.
In 2016, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) surveyed member boards regarding the issues related to cannabis and medical regulation. The survey found that the issues most important to board about CBD and marijuana included guidance on handling recreational use by physicians (31.4%), guidance on handling marijuana products for medical use by physicians (47.1%), and model guidelines for recommending marijuana products for medical purposes to patients (49.0%).
The trouble is that CBD oil, despite its potential medical benefits, lacks the certainty of an FDA-approved drug. The legal framework for that just isn’t there yet, which puts physicians in a bind.
To reduce the risk of liability, however, the FSMB has developed some guidelines for the recommendation of cannabis and cannabinoids such as CBD oil in medical settings as part of its Workgroup on Marijuana and Medical Regulation.
Guidelines for Minimizing Liability Around CBD Oil Recommendation
The FSMB workgroup recommends several conditions for safeguarding the ethical recommendation of cannabis-based products such as CBD oil for medical use.
1. Establish a Preexisting Medical Relationship with the Patient
To avoid questions of inappropriate prescription of CBD oil for medical conditions, the FSMB recommends that physicians first make sure they have a documented, existing medical relationship with the patient before recommending products such as CBD oil.
Consistent with prevailing ethical standards, physicians also should not recommend, attest or authorize CBD oil for themselves or family members.
2. Documented Patient Evaluation
A second key to reducing liability around recommending CBD oil for medical use suggested by the workgroup is taking extra pains to document that an in-person medical evaluation and collection of relevant medical history is performed before considering if CBD oil is appropriate for the patient.
While less applicable to CBD oil because it lacks the high of THC that is present in medical marijuana prescriptions, physicians should nonetheless also ensure the patient does not have a history of substance abuse. This ensures that physicians are covering their bases even if THC is not present in CBD oil.
3. Advise and Decide Together with the Patient
Physicians should discuss the risks and benefits of CBD oil with the patient before making a recommendation because CBD oil is clinically unproven and lacks the standardization present with many other potential treatments, according the FSMB workgroup.
This is key for minimizing the potential for liability because then the choice is not made by the doctor alone, shifting responsibility. It also is important because due to the current legalities of cannabis-related treatments, physicians cannot actually prescribe CBD oil—they can only recommend it as a possible treatment.
4. Include a Treatment Agreement
Physicians that recommend CBD oil should also document alternative options available to the patient in the form of a treatment agreement.
- Review of other measures attempted to ease the suffering caused by the terminal or debilitating medical condition that do not involve the recommendation of CBD oil.
- Advice about other options for managing the terminal or debilitating medical condition.
- Determination that the patient with a terminal or debilitating medical condition may benefit from the recommendation of CBD oil.
- Advice about the potential risks of the medical use of CBD oil, including the variability of quality and concentration of CBD oil.
- Additional diagnostic evaluations or other planned treatments.
- A specific duration for the CBD oil authorization for a period.
- A specific ongoing treatment plan as medically appropriate.
5. Avoid Any Other Relationship with Cannabis-based Products
Finally, one of the most important ways that physicians can reduce the potential liability from recommending CBD oil is by having a clear and impartial relationship to CBD oil and marijuana in general.
That means that doctors should not have a professional office at or near a marijuana dispensary or cultivation center, or receive compensation from or hold a financial interest in a CBD-related business.
By clearly demonstrating that the recommendation of CBD oil is for medical purposes and not based on personal considerations, physicians will help cut the liability associated with CBD recommendation.
That noted, there is no clear-cut way to completely reduce liability when recommending CBD oil to a patient any more than there is a way to completely eliminate the chances of malpractice when advising patients. Some potential for liability is inherent.
As the use of CBD oil and marijuana for medical purposes increased, and further standards and regulations develop, recommending it should become less legally fraught. Until then, reducing the potential risk of liability is the best that physicians can do in the case of CBD oil.
This article is for information only, and does not constitute legal advice.
How to get a CBD oil prescription or medical cannabis prescription
There are four ways to get a prescription for CBD oil or other medical cannabis products:
- From your doctor or specialist
- From a cannabis nursing service
- From a cannabis clinic (“canna clinic”)
- From a cannabis telemedicine service
Here’s what you can expect from each of these approaches.
Your doctor or specialist
Very few doctors and specialists are readily prescribing cannabis, for a variety of reasons. Many will simply refer you to a cannabis clinic, or even suggest you go buy it from a retail store.
If your doctor is knowledgeable and willing, count yourself lucky. That said, they are unlikely to have time to educate you on all of the ins-and-outs of medical cannabis, or help you decide which licensed producer to register with. Nor are they likely to have staff at their clinic who can help.
Some doctors may have a single licensed producer that they have a relationship with. They will forward your prescription to that producer, who will then call you to help you choose a product. It’s convenient for the doctor, but it doesn’t leave the patient with any choice of producer. This is unfortunate because no single producer can meet the diversity of needs that patients have.
[By the way, Wayfare works with quite a few doctors who are prescribing cannabis but count on us to provide educational support to their patients. We can even help prepare documents you can take to your doctor.]
Cannabis nursing service
You can think of this service as a mobile clinic. The nurse will come to your home, provide education, take a medical history and connect with a doctor or Nurse Practitioner to obtain the authorization. She will also help you select an appropriate product and develop a detailed treatment plan and dosing schedule. She will then help register you with a licensed producer so you can order products by phone or on-line, and will follow up with you semi-weekly while you work toward your goal.
The cost for this service is usually fully-covered by insurance as a home nursing expense.
Wayfare falls into this category, although we do often work with patients’ own doctors, and there are some cannabis clinics who refer to us to provide extra support for patients. We are now also providing a telehealth option as well.
Over the past few years a number of specialized cannabis clinics have opened up. These are typically staffed by doctors who work there on a part-time basis. These doctors may come from specialties including psychiatry, surgery, and anesthesiology. This means that some patients may see a heart surgeon for their arthritis! But really, bless these doctors for making time to learn about cannabis and help people.
The educational portion of your visit, where you select a licensed producer and product, is quite often handled by a lay person who may have the title of “cannabis educator”, “canna counsellor”, or “patient educator”. These people rarely have medical training, although they may be knowledgable about particular strains, the pricing programs of the various producers, and how to use a vaporizer.
Cannabis telemedicine services
You can get on a video conference with a doctor or Nurse Practitioner, who will assess you and provide an authorization for medical cannabis. Some of these services are stand-alone whereas others are provided by cannabis clinics as described above.
The educational component of the service may again be handled by a lay person, sometimes via a separate video call or by telephone through a call centre.
Medical cannabis (and cannabis oils)
Many cannabis-based products are available to buy online, but their quality and content is not known. They may be illegal in the UK and potentially dangerous.
Some products that might claim to be medical cannabis, such as CBD oil or hemp oil, are available to buy legally as food supplements from health stores. But there’s no guarantee these are of good quality or provide any health benefits.
Specific cannabis-based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. These are only likely to benefit a very small number of patients.
Can I get a prescription for medical cannabis?
Very few people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis.
Currently, it is only likely to be prescribed for the following conditions:
- children and adults with rare, severe forms of epilepsy
- adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy
- people with muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis (MS)
It would only be considered when other treatments were not suitable or had not helped.
Epidyolex for children and adults with epilepsy
Epidyolex is a highly purified liquid containing CBD (cannabidiol).
CBD is a chemical substance found in cannabis that has medical benefits.
It will not get you high, because it does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in cannabis that makes you high.
Epidyolex can be prescribed by a specialist for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome (both rare forms of epilepsy).
Nabilone for chemotherapy patients
Many people having chemotherapy will have periods where they feel sick or vomit.
Nabilone can be prescribed to adults by a specialist to help relieve these symptoms, but only when other treatments have not helped or are not suitable.
Nabilone is a medicine, taken as a capsule, that has been developed to act in a similar way to THC (the chemical in cannabis that makes you high). You may have heard it described as a “manmade form of cannabis”.
Nabiximols (Sativex) for multiple sclerosis (MS)
Nabiximols (Sativex) is a cannabis-based medicine that is sprayed into the mouth.
It is licensed in the UK for adults with MS-related muscle spasticity that has not got better with other treatments.
There is some evidence medical cannabis can help certain types of pain, though this evidence is not yet strong enough to recommend it for pain relief.
In some cases, however, it may be prescribed for pain as part of a clinical trial.
What about products available to buy?
Some cannabis-based products are available to buy over the internet without a prescription.
It’s likely most of these products – even those called CBD oils – will be illegal to possess or supply. There’s a good chance they will contain THC, and may not be safe to use.
Health stores sell certain types of pure CBD. However, there’s no guarantee these products will be of good quality.
They tend to only contain very small amounts of CBD, so it’s not clear what effect they would have.
Is medical cannabis safe?
The risks of using cannabis products containing THC (the chemical that gets you high) are not currently clear. That’s why clinical trials are needed before they can be used. “Pure” products that only contain CBD, such as Epidyolex, do not carry these unknown risks linked with THC.
But in reality, most products will contain a certain amount of THC.
The main risks of THC cannabis products are:
- psychosis – there is evidence that regular cannabis use increases your risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia
- dependency on the medicine – although scientists believe this risk is probably small when its use is controlled and monitored by a specialist doctor
Generally, the more THC the product contains, the greater these risks are.
Cannabis bought illegally off the street, where the quality, ingredients and strength are not known, is the most dangerous form to use.
What are the side effects?
Depending on the type of medical cannabis you take, it’s possible to develop side effects such as:
- decreased appetite
- feeling sick
- a behavioural or mood change
- feeling very tired
- feeling high
- suicidal thoughts
If you experience any side effects from medical cannabis, report these to your medical team. You can also report them through the Yellow Card Scheme.
CBD and THC can affect how other medicines work. Always discuss possible interactions with a specialist.
CBD can also affect how your liver works, so doctors would need to monitor you regularly.
How do I get a prescription?
You cannot get cannabis-based medicine from a GP – it can only be prescribed by a specialist hospital doctor.
And it is only likely to be prescribed for a small number of patients.
A hospital specialist might consider prescribing medical cannabis:
- for epilepsy – if you (or your child) have one of the rare forms of epilepsy that might be helped by medical cannabis
- for MS – if you have spasticity from MS and other treatments for this are not helping
- for chemotherapy – if you are vomiting or feeling sick from chemotherapy and other anti-sickness treatments are not helping
The specialist will discuss with you all the other treatment options first, before considering a cannabis-based product.
A prescription for medical cannabis would only be given when it was believed to be in your best interests, and when other treatments had not worked or were not suitable.
It’s expected this would only apply to a very small number of people in England.
If the above does not apply to you, do not ask a GP for a referral for medical cannabis.
Will the laws on cannabis be relaxed?
The government has no intention of legalising the use of cannabis for recreational (non-medical) use.
Possessing cannabis is illegal, whatever you’re using it for. That includes medical use cannabis products, unless these have been prescribed for you.