Sajid Javid, the UK Home Secretary, announced a few days ago that the UK will begin to allow prescriptions of cannabis-derived medicines for patients “with an exceptional need.” These measures will become effective in the autumn.
Two high profile cases of children with epilepsy
In the UK there have been two highly publicised cases of children with refractory epilepsy whose families requested cannabis-based oil: Billy Caldwell, 12 years old, and Alfie Dingley, aged 6. The mother of the first has lead a media campaign, thanks to which the Department of Health granted an emergency license to the child. However, this concession obliged the family to travel to the hospital in Belfast twice a day, which is two hours away from their home in Castlederg, a journey of 8 hours a day.
Revision of failing legislation
Thanks to the urgency of these two cases, the Home Secretary revised the use of therapeutic cannabis in the country. This government approved change in the law is an answer to these types of patients, high profile because of their severity. Sajid Javid declared on Twitter that “Making medicinal cannabis available on prescription will benefit the lives of ill patients currently suffering in silence. There is nothing harder than seeing your loved ones in pain – which is why I have taken this decision.” The British government consulted two independant consultancies so that cannabis-derived medicines could be available with a medical prescription.
This change in law has been positively received by many sectors of the country, such as campaigners and health experts, as the medicines that patients will receive will be safer than those from the black market. It is also good news for the research sector. Mike Penning, ex Minister of Justice declared that we still have a lot of facts to learn and we must take care because “Any move to restrict medical cannabis in the UK to a very narrow range of derived products, each requiring full pharmaceutical trials, thereby blocking out the many products available overseas, will lead to great disappointment and be a missed opportunity.”
Much work to be done
Right now there are many issues pending for next autumn in a country which until now has had marijuana on the Schedule 1 drugs list because it was considered to have no therapeutic value and could only be used for research purposes. The plants will now pass to Schedule 2: considered to have medicinal value and able to be prescribed directly to patients by specialised medical professionals.
The Department of Health and Social Care, and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will be working to define what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicine so it can be reprogrammed (available on prescription) and prescribed. This legislation will permit doctors to prescribe only very specific cannabinoids. Another of the pending topics will be to make legislative changes in Northern Ireland as a decentralised unitary state.