5 Key Pieces of Advice: Starting Out with Medical Cannabis

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Jun 5, 2024
Last updated:
Jun 5, 2024

Medical cannabis is one of the most promising alternative treatment forms in the UK – and is rapidly growing in popularity for a number of patients who use it to help them manage a range of common chronic conditions, from chronic pain to anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, cancer symptoms and more.

But, cannabis is a new form of treatment for lots of patients who have not tried it before. It isn't always clear what to expect at the beginning of your medical cannabis treatment journey. Here are five ways to help ensure you make the most of your cannabis prescription and treatment plan.

Tip 1: Make Sure To Research

When talking to your doctor, it can be helpful to understand the kind of cannabis medications that are available in UK, what they’re usually prescribed for and how they’re used.

When it comes to medical cannabis products currently available in the UK, patients are typically prescribed: flower, oil, vape cartridges or edibles. A lot of this terminology can be confusing for new patients, we recommend reading our medical cannabis glossary.

Flower - Commonly resembling the cannabis typically seen in recreational markets, "flower" refers to the buds of the cannabis plant. Patients can grind these buds with a herb grinder to use with a dry herb vaporiser

Vape Cartridges - These are cartridges filled with concentrated cannabis that attach to a basic battery, allowing the oil to be heated as needed. This discreet and user-friendly option is perfect for patients with fine motor impairments or those seeking quick and inconspicuous dosing. 

Oils - Often recommended for new patients with limited experience with cannabis, those who do not want to inhale cannabis flower or for individuals needing long-term, consistent dosing. They come in a variety of strengths, providing flexibility in treatment options and making them suitable for a range of therapeutic needs.

Edibles - A recent addition to the UK medical cannabis market, edibles offer patients an alternative method of consumption. Although currently limited to only a few options, primarily in the form of lozenges, edibles provide another viable option for those seeking different ways to take their medication.

Tip 2: Work Out Expectations

Talking to a doctor about a medical cannabis prescription is a little different to talking to them about other medications. Cannabis prescriptions are personalised to your needs and condition, there is no one size fits all approach. Once your doctor has established that medical cannabis could be a suitable treatment option for you, they will want to know about your experience with cannabis, either medically or recreationally, so that they can tailor their treatment recommendations to your personal level of comfort.

It is crucial to be honest with your doctor and not conceal your experience with cannabis. Many people in the UK feel the need to omit their previous cannabis usage due to its illegal status. However, your doctor needs to know how experienced you are with consuming THC or CBD-based products to prescribe the appropriate dose and form of product.

While this should be a two-way conversation, it is important to express your preferences and expectations from treatment – not comfortable using dried flower? Let them know! Have a particular strain in mind? Tell them about it! – at the end of the day your doctor will prescribe you the medication that they believe has the best chance of improving your health outcomes.

Tip 3: Taking Things ‘Low And Slow’

This is as close to a commandment as you’ll find in the medical cannabis community. Most of the unpleasant side effects we associate with cannabis – paranoia, anxiety, nausea – are a result of improper dosing or, to put it another way, taking way too much.

Your doctor will establish a dosing regime with you during your appointment. This will suggest a starting dose, along with a schedule for increasing (or “titrating up”) the dose. If you’re new to cannabis, or even a particular type of cannabis – you may not have used oil before, for example – it’s important to keep to this schedule and to only up your dose by the amounts suggested, at the intervals suggested.

Tip 4: Log Your Experience 

Medical cannabis is different from, say, a prescription painkiller, in that the sheer variety of cannabis formats, strains, cannabinoid balances, terpene profiles and dosage schedules – along with your own particular biochemistry – means everyone’s treatment will work slightly differently.

As a result, it can be useful, especially early on in your treatment, to keep a journal or basic notes on your experiences. There are no hard and fast rules as to what you should include in a cannabis journal, but jotting down the type of medication, along with the dose, cultivar/cannabinoid balance and a few notes on what you felt and how effectively it alleviated your symptoms is a good start.

A journal not only helps you keep track of your own experiences, but also means that you have a common reference point when you have your next follow-up appointment with your doctor. 

Tip 5: Take Your Time

By definition, people are trying medical cannabis as a second, third or even 10th treatment option. Expectations can be high and patience low. If the treatment doesn’t provide immediate relief, patients might notch it up as yet another failed experiment.

However, we know from experience that it can take time to find the ideal medical cannabis treatment plan for a person’s particular set of symptoms, physiology and experience. This can be hard advice to swallow when you’re desperate for change, but the rewards for sticking with it, trying a few things and keeping an open and honest dialogue with your doctor, can be significant.

Keep communicating on your symptoms, condition and the effectiveness of your medication wherever possible. This will help your doctor adjust your prescription to your needs as you progress through your treatment plan.