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Medical cannabis could be prescribed by doctors in two weeks

Posted by Calum Napier on
Medical cannabis could be prescribed by doctors in two weeks
Prescriptions for medicinal cannabis could be prescribed in exceptional cases within a fortnight.
A panel of experts set up in the wake of the Billy Caldwell controversy began accepting applications for licences for the drug from senior clinicians on Wednesday.
The Government announced it would carry out a review after the confiscation of cannabis oil from Charlotte Caldwell as she attempted to bring it into the UK for her severely epileptic son.
The Home Office announced the panel will make the process “swift and accessible” and vowed to sign off on applications within two to four weeks. Doctors will have to prove there is an “exceptional clinical need” and no other medicine would be suitable for their patient. If given approval, doctors will then be able to write a prescription.
The Government also said it will review the fees paid for medicinal cannabis licences. In the meantime, it said neither patients nor their families will be asked to make any financial contribution towards the cost.
Last week, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced a two-part review looking at the legal status of medicinal cannabis. The expert panel is an interim measure while the review is carried out.
What will the review look at?
Part one of the review will be carried out by England’s chief medical officer Professor Sally Davies and the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). It will consider the evidence for the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of cannabis-based medicines.
This will inform part two, which will look at which forms of cannabis or cannabis-based medicines, if any, should be allowed. The ACMD will assess this based on the balance of harms and public health needs.
The Government has made it clear the legalisation of recreational cannabis is not up for debate.
The review was prompted by the case of Billy, 12, who had as many as 100 seizures a day until he was prescribed cannabis oil. After officials at Heathrow Airport took away the child’s cannabis oil, his mother said he was taken to hospital in a “life-threatening condition”. He was then treated with the drug in hospital after the Home Office granted a 20-day licence for the use of the banned substance.
What is the current legal position in the UK?
Recreational cannabis is an illegal class B drug in the UK, alongside amphetamines and barbiturates. Possession could result in a five-year prison sentence and those who supply the drug face up to 14 years in jail. Possession is illegal whatever you’re using it for, including pain relief.
Cannabis contains cannabidiol (CBD) which scientists are investigating as a medical treatment. This is legal in the UK. Cannabis plant extracts (known as hemp or CBD oils) are available in high street stores but the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content must be below 0.2 per cent. THC is the psychoactive element that gets recreational users “high”. CBD without THC does not have the same effect.
In 2016, the UK’s drug regulator, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said that cannabis products, if advertised for medical purposes, needed to be licensed. Licences for CBD oil as a medicine have not yet been granted but the products can still be sold as long as claims are not made about their medical benefits. Therefore, CBD oil has been available as a ‘food supplement’.
But there’s argument for people in the UK to access the type of medicinal cannabis products available elsewhere. Research trials have largely focused on pharmacological preparations, but some UK patients have been buying oils containing CBD and THC. Some campaigners believe both CBD and THC have therapeutic properties.
Meanwhile, Sativex, a cannabis-based spray, has been legally prescribed since 2006. It is licensed to treat muscle stiffness and spasms in people with multiple sclerosis. It is available throughout the UK but can only be obtained for free on the NHS in Wales. In theory, doctors can prescribe it for other health problems outside of this licence, but at their own risk.
Another licensed treatment is Nabilone which contains an artificial version of THC and can be prescribed to cancer patients to help relieve nausea brought on by chemotherapy.
Where is medicinal cannabis now legal? 
Campaigners say the UK is lagging behind the rest of the world. Many other countries, including much of the US, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, have legalised the use of medicinal marijuana. Last week, Canada’s parliament passed a law legalising the recreational use of cannabis nationwide.
Also last week, Portugal’s parliament voted to allow medical cannabis supply, after it dropped criminal penalties for all personal non-medical drug possession – but not supply – in 2001.
In Spain, it is legal to use cannabis in private places and grow plants for personal use while Uruguay legalised the recreational use of cannabis in 2013 with people allowed to grow up to six plants at home for personal use.
In the Netherlands, marijuana is technically illegal but possession of up to 5g (0.2oz) for personal use is now allowed, although police can confiscate the drug. Use is permitted at certain coffee shops. Recreational use is also decriminalised in Australia, Colombia, Jamaica, Luxembourg and Brazil.
An an article last week in the BMJ pointed out, ironically, the UK is also the world’s largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis for medical use.

Written by Claudia Tanner for

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