On the 4th of March in the House of Lords Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford made the bold claim that “patients are not being denied access” to cannabis medicine. Patients and the families of disabled children who know this was a lie are outraged.
The Baroness also made the huge mistake of saying that the licenced cannabis that is coming into the UK now for prescription is not skunk. Science would have to disagree with her, as would New Scientist magazine and GW Pharmaceuticals, which is growing that very strain for use in Sativex, the Government’s licenced cannabis medicine.
UK street cannabis dubbed “skunk” has an average street value of £10 per gram and 14% THC. This is considered high cost and high THC, making it dangerous to vulnerable people.
Enter Bedrocan, licenced cannabis for medicinal prescription – it is 22% THC and costs £15 a gram. Patients, we would argue, are vulnerable people, so why is it OK to charge them this much rather than the usual £9 per prescription on the NHS?
This shows just how deeply out of touch those in a position of responsibility are from the gravity of the issue.
The debate was raised by Baroness Meacher, who has supported the All-Party Parliamentary Groups that have worked to raise awareness of cannabis medical benefits. She spoke about the lack of training that doctors have on the subject of medicinal cannabis and made those in the chamber aware there are several businesses now operating to provide that training in the UK.
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that patients in need of medicinal cannabis are able to access such treatment on prescription.”
As you can see above from Baroness Blackwood’s answers, it doesn’t quite match the experience patients in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are actually living. This sign put up in Derbyshire Royal Hospital warning patients not to even ask for medical cannabis is just the tip of the iceberg; hundreds of our members have reported being rejected by their specialist on grounds that cannabis medicines are unsafe or, even stranger, a placebo. Baroness Blackwood’s reply:
“My Lords, Government officials have been working with colleagues across healthcare and the wider system to ensure that patients can access medicinal cannabis where appropriate. Clinical guidance has been issued by the Royal College of Physicians, the British Paediatric Neurology Association and the Association of British Neurologists. Specialist doctors will consider this before prescribing, but we are clear that the decision to prescribe should be for individual clinicians to make in partnership with patients and their families.”
We know from speaking to the mother of Murray Gray, Karen from Parents of Hope, has been vocal about their neurologist still not being happy to prescribe a cannabis based medicinal product that contains any level of THC, so far to the point that Murray has suffered considerably.
Baroness Meacher continued to highlight the small number of prescriptions made available so far.
“I thank the Minister for her reply. She will be aware that only about four people have received a prescription for medical cannabis since it became legal on 1 November last year. Doctors have had no training in prescribing cannabis. They need to know the contents, dosages, side-effects and everything else about medical cannabis products. The pressure on doctors with desperate patients whose standard medications are not working or are causing unacceptable side-effects is intense. Doctors urgently need Government help. Will the Minister ensure that the medical director of the NHS makes specialist doctors aware of the new guidelines to be launched later this month by the Medical Cannabis Clinicians’ Society, and of the 12-module online training course already available from the Academy of Medical Cannabis (ACMD)?”
In the short debate, Lord Howarth of Newport spoke up in favour and asked Baroness Blackwood to meet with him and a constituent in order to learn personally why she is having to continue to go to the Netherlands despite the legal access in the UK now.
“Will the Minister comment on the issues illustrated in the predicament of a person who has been prescribed the cannabinoid dronabinol, branded as Bedrocan, which is the only medication that has proved effective for her following the failure of 35 different medications previously prescribed to relieve her chronic pain from cervical and lumbar spondylosis? Given that the Chief Medical Officer stated last summer that there is conclusive evidence that cannabis-based products are effective for certain medical conditions, why is this patient still forced to travel to Holland every three months to obtain the medication that her consultant considers essential for her, and why does confusion still reign over licensing procedures? Will the Minister meet me and the person I have mentioned to see if she can introduce some more sense into these arrangements?”
Baroness Blackwood gave her condolences and agreed to meet them both. “As far as I can see, there should be no reason for the situation he has outlined.” We are keen to see how this progresses.
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers, Baroness Walmsley contributed comparing cannabis medicines to other licensed drugs which cause more harm and which the BPNA support the use of. “Why are UK patients being deprived of these safe and effective medicines which have fewer side-effects than some licensed pharmaceuticals, such as sodium valproate?” Sodium Valproate has been linked to causing 200 birth defects since April 2018 from women who are prescribed it for epilepsy.
Baroness Thornton added a very valid question that went completely unanswered, probably because it came too close to the truth – the UK medical establishment is addicted to opiates.
“Can the Minister describe what level of opiate addiction and which severe side-effects of other medication can be tolerated before medical cannabis is prescribed?”
Here, here! Cannabis is far safer than opiates and many patients could live a better quality of life it it were not for the over-zealous prescription of opiate and opioid based drugs.
There is always one, and this time it was Lord West of Spithead who linked cannabis to terrorism and violent crime – apparently it is the ONLY common factor in these two pitfalls of society, probably the only two that he is aware of. We think there is more of a link to violent crime and prohibition of cannabis rather than just cannabis, but the devil is in the detail.
“The majority of those guilty of violent terrorist crimes in this country are found to be heavy users of cannabis. When one looks at violent crime outside of terrorism, it seems again – although I do not know the details – that very often the people involved are heavy users of skunk – not the kind of cannabis that we are talking about but the liquid stuff. Are the Government looking at the relationship between the use of these really strong types of cannabis and violent crime, to see whether anything should be done about it?”
We are not sure where the figure is recorded for terrorists in the UK being habitual cannabis smokers but there is probably more evidence to suggest that people who smoke cannabis watch Netflix and chill or go and walk the dog without attacking anyone in the process.
It is at this point in the discussion that Baroness Blackwood slips up on some of the spilled Kool Aid she has been drinking on offer from the pharmaceutical cannabis sector.
“The medicines we are speaking about are not skunk.”
Oh dear… oh dear. Yes, yes they are! They are actually the highest quality skunk you can get due to the licence GW have been granted. Blackwood continues:
“The noble Lord is right that all medicines carry risk, but they can also be beneficial. That is why we have introduced a route to allow medicinal cannabis to be used for those conditions where it will be beneficial. The change in the law allows strict access by specialist doctors who, in making the decisions to prescribe, can ensure that the benefit outweighs the harm to the patient and that the restrictions are in line with advice from the ACMD.”
Oh, so it’s all the ACMD’s fault… but she concludes by adding:
“Any further concerns around the kinds of drugs that the noble Lord is talking about are still strictly controlled by the Home Office and by policing.”
Thankfully, we know some good police who are willing to do something different while politicians go on failing the people.