The award-winning Star Trek actor called on the Government to relax current restrictions around the prescription of cannabis-based medicines, which supporters claim can help a range of problems including pain, anxiety, sleeplessness, symptoms of multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Government regulators say there have not been enough controlled trials to support the use of medicinal cannabis for many of these conditions. Under existing rules introduced last November following a campaign by parents of children with severe epilepsy, specialists were allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis to these patients.
However, since then only a handful of prescriptions have been made.
Experts say this is because specialists face almost insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles, including getting a senior medical countersignature on prescriptions and overcoming complex importation rules.
Sir Patrick, 79, whose long acting career has included leading roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the X-Men film series, has been using medicinal cannabis to treat the arthritis in his hands after he was given a prescription by his doctor while living in California.
He said: “I have arthritis in both my hands and thumb joints and have been prescribed various drugs, including a cream which didn’t do much.
“The moment I started using cannabis-based cream it worked and I could feel an immediate reduction in discomfort.
“It meant I could grip my hands and hook my thumb around the steering wheel of a car again. I also take a chewy (cannabis pill) at bedtime and this has really helped, too.
“People think I must be getting high all the time. Nothing is further from the truth.”
Sir Patrick, OBE, who believes he inherited the painful condition from his mother, said: ‘I’ve had access to medical cannabis in the USA for many months and it has been of great benefit. It’s hugely concerning to me that access is still so difficult in the UK, despite its legalisation a year ago.
“It seems perverse that opioid prescriptions are still at such high levels when medical cannabis could be a much safer and more cost-effective alternative.
“I have been given steroid injections for the pain in the UK. Last year I had eight injections into my fingers and knuckles which is about as painful as anything one can imagine.
“I have never experienced anything like it.”
He added: “The current system means that cannabis can only be prescribed in the UK almost exclusively for extreme cases such as life-threatening epilepsy. But when it is not life threatening, like my hands, I see no reason why the legislation is not widened out to allow doctors to prescribe it.”
Sir Patrick’s comments come as a new poll shows that one in three UK doctors believe medical cannabis should be prioritised as an alternative to opioid-based medicines.
The poll was carried out by Sapphire Medical Clinics, the first dedicated medical cannabis clinic in the UK registered by the Care Quality Commission.
Sir Patrick, who has recently completed filming the first season of a new Star Trek series, Star Trek: Picard, was speaking ahead of the release of new guidance by government drug watchdog Nice.
Experts expect the new guidance to loosen regulations regarding treatment for seizures, but to find it is not cost effective as an alternative for pain relief.
Around 30 countries have given the green light to medical cannabis, as well as a handful of others that allow the drug to be used under strict guidelines.