Doctors in the UK will be able to prescribe cannabis-derived medicine after the government announced a relaxation of laws governing access to the substance, reports The Guardian. Thousands of people with drug-resistant conditions will potentially be able to use cannabis-derived medicinal products for treatment after the home secretary, Sajid Javid, announced they should be placed in schedule 2 of the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations, allowing clinicians to prescribe them by the autumn.
The report says cannabis has been classed as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it is thought to have no therapeutic value and cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed. It may be used for the purposes of research, but a Home Office licence is required.
The move by the home secretary comes after the government’s official drug advisers and the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, separately concluded there was evidence of therapeutic benefit for some conditions.
The report says the reviews came after a number of high-profile cases involving children being denied access to cannabis oil to control epileptic seizures. The cases included those of Billy Caldwell, 12, and Alfie Dingley, six, who have forms of intractable epilepsy, also known as refractory epilepsy, that appear to be eased by the use of cannabis oil.
Announcing the changes, Javid said: “Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory. This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.” The former Conservative leader William Hague and some senior police officers had advocated such a move.
The report says when the review was announced, there were reports of divisions within the cabinet over the approach that should be taken, with Theresa May disagreeing that a review should go ahead. But Javid, who commissioned both reviews, told parliament that if experts identified significant medical and therapeutic benefits, he would be minded to follow their advice.
The Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will now develop a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product so they can be rescheduled and prescribed. Only products meeting this definition will be rescheduled.
The report says the UK is the world’s largest exporter and producer of cannabis-based medicines; a British company, GW Pharmaceuticals, is the global leader in developing them. It developed and markets Sativex, a drug for treating multiple sclerosis which has limited availability in the UK. The firm has recently launched an epilepsy drug, Epidiolex, which recently became the first cannabis-derived medicine to gain US government approval.
Campaigners hope the government, the MHRA and businesses will work together to offer patients the most effective medicine. There are fears that it will take some time to develop them, even though they are available overseas under similar licensing regimes.
The report says Professor Mike Barnes, the clinician who successfully applied for a licence on behalf of Alfie Dingley’s family, welcomed the news and expressed his hope that the rules governing medicinal use cannabis would not be “too restrictive”.
“I hope medical cannabis will be available very soon to help the many tens of thousands of people who benefit from the medicine but are currently deemed criminals,” he said. “I hope the government will not make the regulations too restrictive but sensibly open up the way to make good quality, safe cannabis available on prescription.”
Karen Gray, whose 38 Degrees petition for medicinal cannabis for her son Murray garnered more than 240,000 signatures, said: “There are so many children in the UK who will benefit from medicinal cannabis, not to mention the adults that this medication helps also. I am delighted that the government are now acknowledging that cannabis has medicinal value. We still have a long way to go but this is certainly progress.”
[link url="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/26/cannabis-based-medicines-get-green-light-as-uk-eases-rules"]The Guardian report[/link]