For the first time, medical marijuana products can now be prescribed to some patients across the United Kingdom. The treatment can be recommended only by specialist doctors in certain medical circumstances where other conventional medicines have failed.
The decision to decriminalize medical cannabis came as a result of the outcry over two young patients suffering from severe epilepsy being deprived of access to cannabis oil.
However, one charity fears access to cannabis oil might “not be as permissible” as expected.
Among those who are eligible to use it will be kids suffering from rare, severe types of epilepsy.
Who stands to benefit from the treatment?
As mentioned above, currently, cannabis-based extracts or products can be recommended to treat a number of conditions, but only by specialist medical doctors, and not by general practitioners.
New NHS guidance for physicians in England states that cannabis oil should only be recommended or prescribed when there is clear proof of its benefits and other medical treatment options have failed.
Doctors can recommend cannabis-related treatments in cases of
- Kids with rare, severe types of epilepsy
- Adults with muscle stiffness as a result of multiple sclerosis
- Adults with nausea or vomiting caused by chemotherapy
If a patient who is need of cannabis oil is not aware of any specialist doctor, he/she can be referred to one by their general practitioner.
Treatments that can be prescribed
The Home office has declared that the cannabis oil must be regulated and produced for medical use only. From that, experts presume that this is likely to include oils, capsules, and pills, but not smoke or vape products.
Treatments contain varying ratios and quantities of the compound THC, which is known to have psychoactive effects, and CBD, another compound scientist’s value for its therapeutic benefits.
How the UK got to this point
The decision to permit specialists doctors to recommend medical cannabis follows the famous cases of Billy, 13 and Alfie, 7. Both were suffering from severe epilepsy which their parents say, had been significantly improved by cannabis oil treatments.
At first, the Home Office declined requests for a license for Alfie to start using cannabis oil. On the other hand, Charlotte, Billy’s mother, had cannabis oil which she had purchased from Canada, confiscated at Heathrow Airport.
Their plight made members of parliament to criticize the cruel and bizarre laws regarding medical cannabis. The two boys however, have since been presented with special licenses to access their cannabis medication.
The cases made Sajid Javid (Home Secretary) announce in June that, a review concerning medical cannabis would be done. That review, which came in 2 parts, established that there was clear evidence medical cannabis had remedial abilities and that doctors can go ahead to prescribe it, as long as they met safety standards.
July this year, Mr. Javid confirmed that doctors would be allowed to prescribe cannabis-related medical products.
So, what were the cannabis rules before that?
Before November 1st, nearly all cannabis-derived medical products were classed as Schedule 1 drugs. Meaning, they were considered to contain no therapeutic benefits. Sativex, a drug containing the compounds CBD and THC, is among the few which, was already approved.
Initially, cannabis products could not be legally available in the United Kingdom and could be prescribed only, in rare cases, with a license from the Home Office. Now treatments that meet the required standards have been reclassified into Schedule 2 (those which have potential medicinal benefits).
Does this mean we should also expect recreational marijuana to be legalized?
You will remember, this year, Canada became only the 2nd nation in the world, after Uruguay, to decriminalize use and possession of recreational marijuana. So, will the UK follow suit?
The UK government through the Home Office has been quick to declare that this is in no way a step towards legalizing recreational marijuana. An NHS Spokesperson was quoted saying, the change to the law “does not detract from the wider physical and mental health risks and concerns potentially arising from regular recreational cannabis use”.