Doctors will be able to prescribe cannabis products to patients in the UK from today.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced last month the UK law will change to allow cannabis-based products to be prescribed for medicinal use in England, Scotland and Wales.
These products will only be prescribed on a case-by-case basis by specialist doctors – not GPs – after all other treatment options have been exhausted.
The dramatic change to policy follows a review into several high profile cases of patients who were denied products containing THC – the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes users ‘high’.
Epileptic boy Billy Caldwell was banned from taking cannabis oil that was prescribed to him abroad.
He was only given back the medicine after a high profile campaign spearheaded by his mother Charlotte forced Mr Javid to grant a 20-day emergency licence for its use.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced last month the UK law will change to allow cannabis-based products to be prescribed for medicinal use in England, Scotland and Wales
Cannabis-based products can only be prescribed by doctors on the specialist register of the General Medicine Council, which is thought to include neurologists, who typically treat epilepsy. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil can already legally be bought on the High Street (stock)
The Home Secretary has insisted today’s change is not the first step towards the broader legalisation of cannabis.
While the evidence supporting medicinal cannabis builds, Mr Javid added the Government believes it is important that access to these medicines remains strictly controlled to prevent misuse.
Prescriptions will therefore only be made by doctors on the specialist register of the General Medicine Council, a statement claimed.
These medics are thought to include neurologists, who generally treat epilepsy patients, among others.
Dr Saoirse O’Sullivan, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, told
Many use the drug to combat mental-health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, which are typically managed by their GPs, who will not be able to prescribe these treatments, she added.
Clark French, of the United Patients Alliance, added specialists are going to be inundated with requests for cannabis products and hopes the law will be expanded to allow prescriptions to be made by general practitioners.
Blair Gibbs, policy head of The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, said: ‘This has moved incredibly fast – leading to possibly the biggest ever overnight change in prescription medicine.
‘It has been a brave decision to start with this, but as research and understanding is accrued, the decision to broaden the access and availability of cannabis-based medicines will become less difficult.’
He added the CMC is putting together policy proposals for the use of medicinal cannabis in the UK, which will be published in the coming weeks.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Professor David Nutt (left), a former Government drug tsar, called the law change a ‘revolution’. However, pain medicine consultant Dr Rajesh Munglani (right) argued it is not easy to predict who will respond to cannabis-based medicine, with up to four times as many patients being harmed by the treatments as those helped
Dr Munglani argued 28 people have to be treated with medicinal cannabis products before one person benefits. Of these 28, four people experience side effects, such as psychosis, he said
Co-host Richard Madeley asked Dr Munglani if doctors may become ‘inadvertent drug dealers’. The medic admitted this is a concern due to doctors struggling to tell who legitimately needs cannabis products for pain relief and who just want access to the drug
But not everyone thinks the law change is a positive move.
‘The latest evidence suggests that you have to treat 28 people before one person gets significant relief from cannabis.’
He added that of those 28 people, people would be ‘significantly’ harmed due to the development of mental-health issues, such as psychosis.
Dr Munglani also worried doctors may become ‘inadvertent drug dealers’.
He argued it will be difficult for medics to tell which patients are coming to them because they legitimately need pain relief via cannabis products and which just want access to the drug.
But Professor David Nutt, a former Government drug tsar, caused the law change ‘a revolution’, arguing any side effects are short lived.
He added the legislation will allow scientists to more easily study cannabis to better understand its benefits.
THE LANDMARK CASE OF BILLY CALDWELL THAT PROMPTED THE GOVERNMENT TO CHANGE ITS STANCE ON MEDICINAL CANNABIS
Billy Caldwell’s mother Charlotte (pictured together) had seven bottles of cannabis oil confiscated at Heathrow Airport customs, prompting a row over cannabis oil
Cannabis oil was thrust into the limelight when epileptic boy Billy Caldwell’s mother had seven bottles confiscated at Heathrow Airport customs.
The 12-year-old sparked a row over the medicinal status of the oil, prompting the Home Office to step in and grant his mother Charlotte an emergency licence for the product that was calming his seizures, which contained the psychoactive compound THC.
Billy’s bottles were confiscated on June 11 after Ms Caldwell brought them in from Toronto.
On the back of the cases of Billy and fellow epileptic boy Alfie Dingley, six, Home Secretary Sajid Javid called for a review into medicinal cannabis.
In a major shift of policy, he announced in July that some products containing the drug would be available on prescription in the UK from the autumn.
On the back of today’s change to the law, Ms Caldwell said she wept with joy.
‘For me what started off as a journey which was about the needs of my little boy actually turned into something, proved to be something, a lot bigger,’ she told
‘It proved to be the needs of a nation.
‘Medicinal cannabis gave me back my right as a mummy to hope, but the most important thing medicinal cannabis has done is given Billy back his right to life.
‘Only relatively recently did our Government and country really start to appreciate just how many wee children and people of all ages were affected by the difficulties associated with accessing medicinal cannabis.
‘But it became clear it wasn’t just about what was perceived to be a small number of very sick children and that medicinal cannabis could make a life-changing or life-saving difference to more than a million people.’
Although thrilled by the law change, Ms Caldwell hopes regulations will be expanded to allow more people to benefit from cannabis-based treatments.
‘This is new ground for everybody. We did in a few days what successive UK governments failed to do in more than half a century and made medicinal cannabis legal,’ she said.
‘Then, as now, politicians didn’t realise the complexities involved.
‘There’s a wide range of conditions, each of which can only be treated by certain forms of medicinal cannabis.’
Mr Javid announced on 19 June that the Misuse of Drugs Regulations act of 2001 was being reviewed in a two-part investigation to allow for the prescription of medicinal-cannabis products.
In the first part of the review, the chief medical advisor, Professor Dame Sally Davies, concluded there was evidence that medicinal cannabis has therapeutic benefits.
The second part, carried out by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), recommended drugs that meet a clear definition of a cannabis-derived medicinal products should be placed in Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.
Cannabis was previously considered Schedule 1. Drugs in this class are thought to have no medicinal value and therefore cannot be legally possessed or prescribed.
Schedule 2 drugs, such as ketamine, are those that can be prescribed and supplied by doctors and pharmacists. They can also be legally possessed by anyone with a prescription.
According to Mr Javid, cannabis drugs will only will be re-classed as Schedule 2 if they meet the following:
- Contain cannabis, cannabis resin, the compound cannabinol or a cannabinol derivative
- Are produced for medicinal use in humans
- Are a medicinal product or used as an ingredient in a medicinal product
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil can already legally be bought on the High Street due to it not containing the psychoactive compound THC.
‘I have been clear my intention was always to ensure patients have access to the most appropriate course of medical treatment,’ Mr Javid said in the statement, which was delivered by Baroness Williams of Trafford, minister of state at the Home Office in the House of Lords.
‘I stressed the importance of acting swiftly to ensure that where medically appropriate, these products could be available to be prescribed to patients.
‘I have been clear this should be achieved at the earliest opportunity whilst ensuring the appropriate safeguards were in place to minimise the risks of misuse and diversion.’
THE SIX-YEAR-OLD BOY WHO WAS ALSO ALLOWED CANNABIS OIL TO TREAT HIS EPILEPSY AFTER THE HOME OFFICE’S INITIAL REFUSAL
Another British boy with epilepsy was given cannabis oil treatment in September after a landmark Home Office ruling.
Alfie Dingley, six, suffers from a rare form of the disease that can cause up to 30 seizures a day.
His mother Hannah Deacon, of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, begged the Home Office to let her treat her son with marijuana, but they refused.
However, the youngster became the second UK epilepsy sufferer to be allowed cannabis treatment after the Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s intervened in September.
Ms Deacon wept with joy during an interview on ITV News when she was told the Government granted a licence for Alfie to receive cannabis oil.
Alfie Dingley, six, suffers from a rare form of epilepsy that can cause up to 30 seizures a day. His mother Hannah Deacon, of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, begged the Home Office to let her treat her son with marijuana, but they refused (both are pictured)
Alfie is pictured with his mother, father Drew Dingley and sister Annie, as well as actor Sir Patrick Stewart, when the family took their campaign to Downing Street earlier this year. The Star Trek star revealed he use cannabis products to treat his arthritis
Hannah Deacon, whose son Alfie Dingley was was given cannabis oil treatment after a landmark Home Office ruling, called the move ‘momentous’.
Six-year-old Alfie suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, which can cause him to have up to 30 seizures a day.
‘Today is a momentous day for every patient and family with a suffering child who wish to access medicinal cannabis,’ Ms Deacon said.
‘We urge the medical world to get behind these reforms so they can help the tens of thousands of people who are in urgent need of help.
‘I have personally seen how my son’s life has changed due to the medical cannabis he is now prescribed.
‘As a family we were facing his death. Now we are facing his life, full of joy and hope, which is something I wish for each and every person in this country who could benefit from this medicine.’
Mr Javid added, however, the re-scheduling of cannabis products will not led to the drug being legalised for recreational use.
‘I have been consistently clear that I have no intention of legalising the recreational use of cannabis,’ he said.
‘To take account of the particular risk of misuse of cannabis by smoking and the operational impacts on enforcement agencies, the 2018 Regulations continue to prohibit smoking of cannabis, including of cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans.
‘These regulations are not an end in themselves.
‘The ACMD will be conducting a long-term review of cannabis and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been commissioned to provide advice for clinicians by October next year.
‘The Government will monitor the impact of the policy closely as the evidence-base develops and review when the ACMD provides its final advice.’
Mr Javid added his officials are working closely with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, ‘which intends to mirror these legislative amendments’.
Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, said: ‘This is a landmark moment as the UK comes closer to joining countries around the world to offer access to cannabis for medicinal use.
‘MS is often painful and exhausting, and this change in the law could have a huge impact for up to 10,000 people with the condition to relieve their pain and muscle spasms.
‘It’s crucial that specialist doctors can prescribe it in a fair and timely way on the NHS for everyone who could benefit, and we welcome robust guidance being put in place to help them make their decisions.’
WHAT IS CBD OIL AND IS IT LEGAL IN THE UK?
Government advisers made it legal to buy CBD supplements in 2016
Government advisers at the MHRA made it legal to buy cannabidiol (CBD) oil in 2016 after they admitted that it has a ‘restoring, correcting or modifying’ effect on humans.
Suppliers in England and Wales have to obtain a licence to sell it as a medicine, following the decision in October two years ago.
Manufacturers are able to avoid the strict regulation by selling it as a food supplement – ignoring the lengthy process of gaining a medicinal licence.
CBD products comes in many forms, the most popular being an oil – which users spray under their tongue – or gel tablets which melt slowly in the mouth.
Cannabis oil, which is different to CBD oil because it contains THC – the compound that gives users a ‘high’ – is illegal under UK laws.
Billy Caldwell, from Castlederg, Northern Ireland, made headlines last April when he became the first Briton to be prescribed it on the NHS.
Cannabis oil, which reportedly has no side effects, influences the release and uptake of ‘feel good’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.