The government recently announced a relaxation of laws around prescribing medical cannabis.
By autumn 2018, cannabis-based medicine will be placed in schedule 2 of the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations, which means thousands of people who have drug-resistant conditions, will be able to use cannabis-derived medical products as part of their treatment.
Cannabis is currently classed as a schedule 1 drug, which means it is thought to have no theraputic value and therfore cannot be prescribed or lawfully possessed. This should not be confused with cannabis CBD oils which contain no ‘high’ effect and is legal in the UK, unlike medicinal cannabis.
The move to class it as a schedule 1 drug, comes after the government’s drug advisors and the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, concluded that there was evidence of therapeutic benefit for certain conditions.
This news comes after a number of high-profile cases involving children whose reliance upon cannabis oil to control epileptic seizures, was denied. One such case involved Billy Caldwell, 12 who has a rare form of intractable epilepsy that is clearly eased by the use of cannabis oil.
Home secretary Sajid Javid, was reported to have 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 it is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.”
After the review was announced, there were divisions within the cabinet over the correct approach to take, with Theresa May disagreeing that a review should go ahead at all.
However, Javid told parliament that he would be minded to follow the expert opinion he had received, who had identified significant medical and therapeutic benefits of cannabis oil.
The Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will define what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product, which means that only products meeting this definition will be rescheduled and prescribed.
The clinician Prof Mike Barnes, who successfully applied for a licence on behalf of Alfie Dingley, another high-profile case, welcomed the news and expressed his hope that the rules around medicinal 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 on prescription”.
Karen Gray, who petitioned on 38 degrees for medical cannabis for her son Murray which saw 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.”