Developing a real-world evidence base for prescribed cannabis in the United Kingdom: preliminary findings from Project Twenty21
The therapeutic potential of medical cannabis to treat a variety of conditions is becoming increasingly recognised. Globally, a large number of countries have now legalised cannabis for medical uses and a substantial number of patients are able to access their medications. Yet in the UK, where medical cannabis was legalised in November 2018, only a handful of NHS prescriptions have been written, meaning that most patients are unable to access the medicine. Reasons for this are manyfold and include the perceived lack of clinical evidence due to the challenges of studying medical cannabis through randomised controlled trials. In order to develop the current evidence base, the importance of incorporating real-world data (RWD) to assess the effectiveness and efficacy of medical cannabis has gradually become recognised. The current paper provides a detailed outline of Project Twenty21 (T21), the UK’s first medical cannabis registry, launched in August 2020. We provide the rationale for T21 and describe the methodology before reporting the characteristics of the ‘first patients’ enrolled in the registry. We describe the health status of all patients enrolled into the project during its first 7 months of operation and the sociodemographic characteristics and primary presenting conditions for these patients, as well as details of the medical cannabis prescribed to these individuals. By 12th March 2021, 678 people had been enrolled into T21; the majority (64%) were male and their average age was 38.7 years (range = 18-80). The most commonly reported primary conditions were chronic pain (55.6%) and anxiety disorders (32.0%) and they reported high levels of multi-morbidity, including high rates of insomnia and depression. We also present preliminary evidence from 75 patients followed up after 3 months indicating that receipt of legal, prescribed cannabis was associated with a significant increase in self-reported health, assessed using the visual analogue scale of the EQ-5D-5L (Cohen’s d = .77, 95% CI = .51-1.03). Our initial findings complement reports from other large-scale databases globally, indicating that the current RWD is building up a pattern of evidence. With many clinicians demanding better and faster evidence to inform their decisions around prescribing medical cannabis, the current and future results of T21 will expand the existing evidence base on the effectiveness of cannabis-based medical products (CBMPs).
Keywords: Cannabidiol (CBD); Cannabis-based medical products (CBMPs); Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); Project Twenty21 (T21); Real-world data (RWD).