Specialist doctors can start prescribing ‘cannabis-derived’ medicine to patients in England, Wales and Scotland from 1 November, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed.
The new law will not limit the types of conditions that can be considered for treatment and doctors will no longer need to seek approval from an expert panel in order for patients to access the medicines.
In a written statement to parliament, Javid said: “This brings these products explicitly into the existing medicines framework. These regulations are not an end in themselves. The ACMD (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs) 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.
“I stressed the importance of acting swiftly to ensure that where medically appropriate, these products could be available to be prescribed to patients.”
He added: “I have been consistently clear that I have no intention of legalising the recreational use of cannabis. 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.”
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Professor Mike Barnes, the medical cannabis expert who secured the first long-term licence for its use for Alfie Dingley, said: ‘This announcement has transformed the position of the UK in this exciting and developing field. ‘Many of my medical colleagues are understandably unsure about the benefits. ‘After all, medical cannabis has been illegal in the UK for generations. But I urge them to embrace these developments. ‘Compared to many pharmaceutical drugs, whole plant medical cannabis products are remarkably safe and, as recent high-profile cases have shown, can produce dramatic improvements for patients.
The announcement comes after the Home Office ordered an initial review by chief medical adviser Dame Sally Davies, who concluded that there is evidence medicinal cannabis has therapeutic benefits. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which carried out the second part of the review, then said doctors should be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis provided products meet safety standards. It recommended cannabis-derived medicinal products should be placed in Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 – not cannabis per se.
The regulations allow three access routes for the order, supply and use of cannabis-derived products by patients: a special medicinal product for use in accordance with a prescription or direction of a doctor; an investigational medicinal product without marketing authorisation for use in a clinical trial; or a medicinal product with a marketing authorisation.
UKCSC chairman Greg de Hoedt said: “It’s really great news that this has been announced and will be welcomed by millions of people in the UK.
“However, patients still have to wait until 1 November at the earliest to get a prescription. Because GPs cannot prescribe those patients who have not yet been assigned specialists will have to go through the process of doing so, and even then there is no guarantee that specialists will prescribe medicinal cannabis. We have seen many specialists refusing to refer patents to the expert panel. How long is all this going to take?
“Then the medicine has to be chosen and imported – despite the fact that Britain’s grows the most medical cannabis in the world! British beuaracracy at its best.
“We have patients contacting us saying they will have to continue to medicate illegally in the meantime. We have cancer patients and others with life threatening illnesses telling us they cannot wait.
“So we urge all campaigners to continue the fight, to keep going until cannabis itself is made legal along with the right to grow so that everybody has access to legal medicine cannabis when they need it.”