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London’s First Medical Cannabis Clinic Set to Open its Doors

Jun 19, 2019

 London’s First Medical Cannabis Clinic Set to Open its Doors

Leo Bear-McGuinness
Science Writer
@LeoMcBear

Londoners looking for a medical cannabis prescription will soon have their first legal, local option. 

The UK capital’s first medical cannabis clinic is set to open in the coming weeks on Harley Street in Marylebone. The clinic’s medical board claim its doctors will be able to prescribe cannabis to patients living with a range of debilitating conditions, such as chronic pain, epilepsies, and neurological and psychiatric disorders. 

The London branch is the second such clinic to open its doors in the UK following the launch of The Medical Cannabis Clinics’ first private center in Greater Manchester this March.

Medical cannabis was legalized in the UK in November last year, but remains an unlicensed form of medicine, so it can only be prescribed with the approval of specialists. Due to this restriction and other hesitancies, it’s thought that few patients have been granted cannabis medications from the country’s National Health Service (NHS). Some professional associations have even discouraged patients from requesting the medicine, stating that “the risk of serious side effects far outweigh any reported benefit.” 

“There’s been no NHS prescription written since the first of November when the law changed, which I think is disgraceful,” says Professor Mike Barnes, director of The Medical Cannabis Clinics. “Therefore, the only way to get a legal cannabis prescription is through the private sector.”

Appointments at The Medical Cannabis Clinic – London will cost £250 and prescriptions could cost between £600 to £700 a month. 

“It’s fine for those who can afford it, but 95 percent of the population can't because it is expensive,” Professor Barnes told Analytical Cannabis. “So the NHS has got a lot to do. And the doctors have got a lot to do to catch up and start prescribing, which they legally can, but they’re not.”

Any decision by the clinic’s medics will be made on a case-by-case basis and only when the patient has a clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products.

“So for anyone who has exhausted conventional therapies and has an unmet clinical need, we would consider them, and they would come in to see me and appropriate specialists to see if they’d be happy to take things forward,” explained Dr Leon Barron, a general practitioner who’ll oversee the London clinic’s medics. 

Upon approval from such a specialist, a patient could then take their prescription to a pharmacist to request their cannabis medication. “Primarily, we are prescribing cannabis oils and capsules in a similar way that you would [receive] if you were in Canada, Germany, or Holland, for example,” Dr Barron added.  

“We don't have anything to do with the supply,” Professor Barnes clarified. “You take your prescription to a high street pharmacist, and they’ll sort out the supply for you.”

Met with unprecedented demand, the new London clinic already has over 150 patients signed on to its waiting list. Many of them may be hoping to experience the life-changing effects witnessed in high-profile media cases like Alfie Dingley’s, a young British boy who experienced over 100 epileptic seizures a month until he was granted a special medical cannabis license back in June last year.  

“At five, when his condition was at its worse, he was having intravenous steroids up to 25 times a month. So that's very, very dangerous,” said Hannah Deacon, Alfie’s mother and medical cannabis campaigner. “And our doctors were saying to us that he was so seriously ill that the seizures may kill him. But if the seizures didn't, it was likely the steroids would because they can cause organ failure.” 

“So we then went to Holland in 2017, where we worked with a pediatric neurologist to use medical cannabis,” she explained to Analytical Cannabis. “And we saw [Alfie’s] seizures drop to once every 17 days, and then one seizure every 40 days. So, for us, it was like a miracle.”

Alfie’s miraculous story and that of another young boy with epilepsy, Billy Caldwell, soon become headline news in the UK last summer, which helped to elevate medical cannabis campaigns and push the home secretary, Sajid Javid, to legalize its clinical use in November last year. But in the seven months that have passed since then, Alfie’s case has remained largely unique.   

“So for him [Alfie], it's been fantastic. For every other patient in this country – bar a very few – it has been a disaster, unfortunately,” Deacon added. “Clinicians and the NHS have completely blocked any prescriptions to patients.”

Recent claims by the UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, indicate that around 80 children have been prescribed CBD-based products from UK specialists since last November. But access is unlikely to be expanded until NHS officers are properly convinced of marijuana’s medical potential, which will require UK-based randomized controlled clinical trials, the gold standard for medical drug testing.

Such trials typically take years to be authorized, carried out, and concluded. But it’s highly unlikely that NHS doctors and trusts will become free to prescribe cannabis without the data they could bear.  

“I really hope we can do the trials,” said Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, to a parliamentary committee on medical cannabis in March this year. “Because without those, how can we help the patients? And that's what we’re all here for.”

Until such trials are concluded, The Medical Cannabis Clinics remain the largest legal and compliant institution in the country to help patients access medical marijuana. The London clinic is set to open soon, following a final assessment by an independent health and social care services regulator. Beyond that, a Birmingham branch is already set to open by the end of the year. 

“The opening of the private medical clinics is a great step forward,” said Hannah Deacon. “It will bring expertise, it will bring choice to patients, and it will bring an industry to the UK which we desperately need.”

“I think it's a shame that we're not seeing any NHS subscriptions. But I do believe that these Medical Cannabis Clinics are going to be at the forefront of changing the landscape on cannabis prescriptions in the UK, which I hope then means the NHS doctors will start to prescribe.”

 

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