Epilepsy Action senior policy and campaigns officer Sam Mountney provides an update on the current situation with cannabis-based medicines in the UK
"Medicinal cannabis is never far away from the news at the moment. We said we’d follow this issue closely on behalf of the epilepsy community so here’s our take on what’s happened so far and what is happening next.
"In the next few weeks the Home Secretary will begin the process of changing the law in the UK to allow specialist clinicians to prescribe specific cannabis-based medicinal products. This represents an important step towards ensuring people with epilepsy who might benefit from these treatments are able to access them.
"At this stage only specialist clinicians will be able to prescribe cannabis-based medicinal products. Specialist clinicians are expected to keep up to date with new medicines and treatments. Because cannabis in all its forms has been classified as an illegal drug in the UK for over 40 years this change will be complex even for specialist clinicians.
"To support specialist clinicians in making decisions about prescribing cannabis-based medicinal products they will be provided with interim advice and guidance. This will come from a number of organisations including the NHS and the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
"Clinical advice will also be provided by professional bodies. While cannabis-based medicines won’t be limited by condition, the interim guidance will focus on three conditions, one of which is severe epilepsy in children. The clinical advice for this will be put together by the British Paediatric Neurological Association (BPNA).
"We are pleased that the government have recognised the potential of cannabis-based medical products to improve the lives of some children with the most severe and treatment resistant epilepsies. We also welcome how quickly the government have acted on this important issue.
"We know that some families have had problems accessing cannabis-based medicinal products through the expert panel set up to review applications. Epilepsy Action share these concerns. When the above changes come in to force, the expert panel will end and decisions will be made directly by specialist clinicians. We hope that this will make access to cannabis-based medical products easier for children who could benefit from them and their families.
"Safety has always been front and centre of our work on cannabis-based medicinal products. However, it is vital that these products are available and accessible to those children who could benefit from them. This is an issue that we will continue to monitor closely.
"We look forward to seeing the advice and guidance from the BPNA and others and will provide a full update when this is published. In the meantime we will continue to represent people with epilepsy in this process and make sure the voices of the epilepsy community are heard."