Following a series of high profile campaigns, medical cannabis will be available on prescription in the UK later this year. These campaigns received a lot of media attention and public sympathy. They included cases where severely epileptic children were prevented from accessing the potentially life changing cannabis based medicines. Meanwhile, the UK is one of the largest exporters of medical cannabis.
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, said in a statement: “Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory. Following advice from two sets of independent advisors, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products – meaning they will be available on prescription. This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need.” However, he noted that this is “in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.”
Under previously legislation in the UK, cannabis was classed as a Schedule 1 drug. This means that it’s considered to have no therapeutic value, but it can be used for research purposes as long as a company has a license from the Home Office. It’s now been recommended by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) that medicinal products derived from cannabis should be placed in Schedule 2 of the drugs act as they do have therapeutic benefits. Products should be available for prescription by doctors, providing they meet certain safety requirements.
The changes to the legislation will bring the UK closer to being line with other countries, like Canada, the Netherlands, and a large number of US states, all of whom have already legalised medical cannabis for certain medical conditions. There’s a large and growing amount of evidence that cannabis can help patients with an array of conditions including MS, cancer, epilepsy and a number of other serious health problems.
The co-chairman of the group Medical Cannabis Under Prescription, which has been recently established, said: “I have just spoken to the home secretary to say how pleased I am that he has acted so quickly and I pay testament to the families and campaigners that have fought so hard to achieve this dramatic change in policy.”
He added: “This announcement brings hope to many thousands of people. However, there is still a very important body of work to define exactly which products will be allowed and how they will be regulated. Any move to restrict medical cannabis in the UK to a very narrow range of derived products, each requiring full pharmaceutical trials, thereby blocking out the many products available overseas, will lead to great disappointment and be a missed opportunity.”
Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, also commented, saying that: “This is exceptional news and we want to thank the home secretary for the speed at which this decision has been made. We started campaigning for cannabis for MS exactly a year ago and it’s incredible to see how far we’ve come since then. The priority now has to be making sure everyone who could benefit can access cannabis in a safe and responsible way. We plan to work closely with the Government to determine what exactly this will mean for people with MS. This life-changing decision could help thousands with the condition who haven’t been able to find relief for their pain and muscle spasms.”