Medical cannabis will be made available to UK patients via prescription from next month, after a long battle with spotlight on children and other patients whose conditions were eased by the substance.
Until now, the drug has been listed as a schedule one drug – the strictest schedule possible – under UK law, limiting medical cannabis to be allowed in only exceptional circumstances and requires a Home Office license to use legally.
The new regime, which moves the drug to schedule two, will apply to cannabis oil that contains THC, the active ingredient that causes people to get “high” when used in a recreational setting. Cannabis oil without THC is already legal in the UK and available in high street shops.
The Home Office is expected to announce the “rescheduling” of cannabis in parliament within the next two weeks, and patients will be able to obtain prescriptions for medical cannabis products within a matter of weeks, according to British media.
A long struggle
The decision to reschedule cannabis comes after a long battle between medical cannabis campaigners and a Conservative Party government reluctant to change laws regarding the drug, despite the UK producing 60 percent of the world’s cannabis for pharmaceutical research.
The fight came to a head earlier this year, after tireless campaigning by mothers of children suffering from rare forms of epilepsy, who found that medicinal cannabis proved the best course of treatment for their children’s conditions over opiate-based medications.
The cases of young epilepsy suffers Alfie Dingly and Billy Caldwell gained particular attention in the media, highlighting the positive effects medical cannabis gave to their conditions.
A stand-off between Billy’s mother Charlotte and the Home Office took place in June, after drugs prescribed for him in Canada were confiscated at Heathrow Airport. After Billy’s condition worsened and he was admitted to hospital, Home Secretary Sajid Javid backed down, releasing the drugs and Billy’s condition drastically improved.
Javid’s decision to move ahead with further rescheduling comes following a review by England’s chief medical officer, and will open up possible cannabis treatment to millions of British patients suffering from chronic pain, severe epilepsy or nausea as a result of chemotherapy.
With an estimated 28 million sufferers of chronic pain in the UK, conditions that could be eased with medical cannabis range from conditions such as arthritis to multiple sclerosis.
The MS Society, who penned an open letter to the home secretary in June requesting that MS sufferers be considered under the department’s review of cannabis, believe that as many as 10,000 suffers alone could benefit from the change in law.