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UK Patients to Get Faster Access to Medical Cannabis

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Mar 03, 2020   
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Patients in need of medical cannabis will no longer face delays in accessing their prescriptions, according to the UK government.

On Monday, March 2nd, the government said that import restrictions had been changed, which should allow UK companies to order and hold more stock from abroad.

Medical cannabis was legalized in the UK nearly 18 months ago, but few products have been prescribed.

Access to cannabis

Despite being the world’s biggest producer of medical cannabis, the UK still imports a lot of cannabis-based medicines from foreign countries for its own patients to use. But these export restrictions mean it can take months for drugs to reach patients.

As medical cannabis is also an unlicensed medicine in the UK, any prescription must be reviewed every 30 days by specialist doctors – a restriction that can lead to further delays.

But, due to new measures from the UK Home Office and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, these waiting times should soon be significantly reduced.

“I have taken swift action to allow specialist doctors to issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicinal products, when they consider their patients would benefit from this treatment,” the home secretary, Priti Patel, said in a statement.

The change in restrictions should allow licensed wholesalers to import larger quantities of cannabis-based products and hold supplies for future use by patients with prescriptions.

The government says the changes will benefit patients with rare forms of epilepsy or multiple sclerosis.

“The changes made today are a tremendous step towards improving the supply of cannabis-based medicinal products by helping to ensure quicker and more reliable access for patients,” the health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said in a statement.

A welcome change

Along with lifting the import restrictions, the government also says it’s committed to building the evidence base for medical cannabis through patient engagement and medical trials.

An independent two-year-long medical cannabis experiment was announced last year. Involving up to 20,000 UK patients, the trial will ascertain medical marijuana’s efficacy as a treatment for chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and several mental health disorders. 

The need for such UK trials became more pressing last August, after the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence concluded that there was a “lack of evidence about the long-term safety and effectiveness of medicinal cannabis” for the treatment of epileptic disorders. 

But despite this advice, two cannabis-based medicines, Epidiolex and Sativex, were approved for use by the National Health Service (NHS) in England in November, after the issuance of new guidelines from the drugs advisory body the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

“We still have a long way to go,” Matt Hancock’s statement continued. “We need more research into the quality and safety of these medicines, and to do all we can to cut down the costs and remove barriers so that, when appropriate, patients can access it, including on the NHS.”

Commenting on the export announcement, Dr Andy Yates, pharmacy lead at the Centre for Medical Cannabis, said that it “will be warmly welcomed by patients, carers, and clinicians alike. It’s crucial as we build the evidence required to realise the potential of cannabis-based medicinal products that there are no unnecessary impediments to accessing prescriptions.”

“We are grateful that the government has listened to the valid concerns expressed by our members and responded with measures that will immediately improve access to these novel medicines and accelerate clinical understanding of their use. We look forward to working on the finer details of how this can now be implemented.”

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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