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UK Campaigners Call for More Medical Cannabis Access, Two Years on From Decision to Legalize

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jun 19, 2020   
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Medical cannabis campaigner Hannah Deacon has called on the UK government to improve patient access to the medications.

In an open letter to the country’s home secretary, Priti Patel, Deacon highlighted how medical cannabis remains largely unavailable to patients via the National Health Service (NHS).

Two years later

The letter comes two years after Deacon was given permission to treat her son, who lives with severe epilepsy, with medical cannabis from the then home secretary, Sajid Javid.

That decision led Javid to legalize the prescription of medical cannabis on November 1, 2018. Yet, to date, there have only been 12 prescriptions given through the NHS, and fewer than 50 from private clinics.

In contrast, it’s estimated that 1.4 million UK residents are using illicit cannabis for medical issues.

“I have spoken with parents of children who have profound challenges that could be improved by medicinal cannabis,” Deacon wrote. “They are at their wits’ end, and it is no surprise to find that some in this country resort to desperate measures.”

This fraught situation has largely been attributed to a reticence from doctors and UK health bodies, which remain concerned over cannabis’ effects. In a report last August, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE, an advisory health body to the NHS) stated that the research supporting cannabis as an epilepsy treatment is “limited and of low quality,” and so it “did not warrant a practice recommendation.”

“Neither the government nor medical profession seem to able to agree on who should take responsibility for unlocking this stasis,” Deacon wrote.

“Restrictive guidance from NICE and the BPNA [British Paediatric Neurology Association], and a reluctance from the government and the NHS means that not one new NHS prescription has been written in the last two years,” she added.

Cannabis and the UK

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

The UK government also modified import restrictions this March to allow UK companies to order and hold more medical cannabis from abroad.

But, according to campaigners, neither of these measures have made much impact on prescription rates.

“Only a few days ago we have seen a child in intensive care because her mother could no longer pay for her treatment,” Deacon’s letter reads. “Only due to an exceedingly kind donation can she carry on the treatment for a few more months and has managed to get her child home and safe for now.”

“Today, I implore you to all come together and finally deliver appropriate access to medical cannabis on the NHS,” Deacon concluded.

A review into the UK’s medical cannabis infrastructure was published earlier this month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Written by some of the country’s most prominent drug science and policy researchers, the review recommended increasing prescriptions and collecting real-world data from patients to develop an evidence base for doctors.

“The current situation regarding medical cannabis in the UK is a travesty of justice, policy and humanity,” David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and co-author of the report, told Analytical Cannabis.

“Our paper should give the medical profession and the Department of Health support in moving this exciting new treatment regime forward.”


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