UK Medicinal Cannabis
Following a short yet dramatically successful public campaign in the summer of 2018, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced in Parliament that the UK would be making medicinal cannabis available. This is a significant advance given the position adopted by successive British governments over many decades.
The Home Secretary sought the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) regarding the therapeutic use and scheduling of cannabis-derived medicinal products. They both endorsed the rescheduling of cannabis for medical purposes and in response the government quickly announced that certain cannabis-derived medicines will be rescheduled to permit specialist clinicians to prescribe them.
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have been mandated to 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. Other forms of cannabis will be kept under strict controls and will not be available on prescription.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is currently consulting on the development of clinical guidelines which they propose to publish in October 2019. The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis is a confirmed registered stakeholder. Rescheduling requires legislation and further details are awaited on how patients will gain access, and how such products will be supplied and distributed within the NHS.
You can read the “Response to ACMD: cannabis-derived medicinal products” from the Home Secretary.
Rescheduling is long overdue and will enable much-needed research, but much more needs to be accomplished before all those who could benefit from medicinal cannabis will have access to it. Integrating medicinal cannabis into the unique culture and institutional frameworks of the UK public healthcare system represents a complex challenge. Some countries have moved to change their laws, like Ireland and Australia, who struggled to develop a sustainable market that can meet patient demand. Other mature markets, like Canada, took years to develop the right regime and went through several distinct models. We must learn from this experience so we can successfully make the argument for the right kind of model fit for patients in the UK.