The government has announced that doctors in the UK will be permitted to prescribe ‘cannabis-derived’ medicine.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has agreed with reviews from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs and chief medical officer for England Dame Sally Davies that cannabis-derived medicine should be placed in schedule 2 of the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations, allowing clinicians to prescribe them by the autumn.
Cannabis is classed as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it is defined as having 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 reviews came after a number of high-profile cases involving children being denied access to cannabis oil to control epileptic seizures.
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 Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency 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 – not cannabis itself.
The Home Office had previously set up an expert panel that clinicians could apply to the get cannabis-based prescriptions for their patients, but only a few people applied due to prohibitive costs.
UKCSC director Greg de Hoedt commented: “Now the government admits that cannabis does have medical value for children can we accept it has benefits for adults too?
“Not moving to immediately decriminalise patients and their personal use of cannabis for medical reasons undermines the situation 99% for those who need access to it.
“There is a great fear among the patient community that this recent shift in policy is going to shelve the medical cannabis issue for some years to come, leaving patients who cannot afford a £3,500 licence at the mercy of local law enforcement when buying or growing their own.
“This push for legalisation of licenced medical cannabis products is for the few, not the many, and it now seems like we need more political powerhouses to speak up over this licencing issue.”