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Clinicians should have the option to prescribe cannabis-based medicines, the ACMD tells the UK government as part of review

20 Jul 2018

People with certain medical conditions should be able to get access to cannabis-based medicines, according to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The ACMD’s recommendations have come as part of the review by the UK government into the use of cannabis-based medicines. The review followed a few high-profile cases of children with severe forms of epilepsy asking to be given access to cannabis oil.

In the first part of the review, Prof Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, looked at evidence around the effectiveness of cannabis-based medicines. She concluded that cannabis-based medicines should no longer be classed as Schedule 1 under the Misuse of Drugs regulation 2001. Schedule 1 medicines are ones thought to have no therapeutic effects.

As part of the second stage of the UK government’s review into the use of cannabis-based medicines, the ACMD has provided some short-term advice.

The ACMD agreed with Prof Davies, that there is evidence to say some cannabis-based products can have a benefit to people with some conditions. The Advisory Council agreed that the medicines should not be listed as Schedule 1.

In his letter to the Home Secretary, chair of the ACMD Dr Owen Bowden-Jones said: “The ACMD advises that clinicians in the UK should have the option to prescribe cannabis-derived medicinal products that meet the requirements for medicinal standards to patients with certain medical conditions.”

The ACMD added that other forms of cannabis may be potentially dangerous and should continue to be under Schedule 1.

The recommendations from the ACMD said that a clear definition and standard should be made for cannabis-based medicines. This should be put together by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Cannabis-based products that meet the description and standard should then be put into Schedule 2. That means that they would be made available for prescription.

The ACMD also recommended that clear clinical guidelines are put together to ensure safe prescribing of these medicines. The Advisory Council said this should be done by the DHSC, MHRA and the Home Office.

Finally, the ACMD said a lot more research and clinical trials are needed on the effectiveness and safety of these medicines.


Accessing medicines safely and quickly

Epilepsy Action’s deputy chief executive Simon Wigglesworth said: “Epilepsy Action welcomes the recent recommendations from the government’s review panels to reschedule some cannabis-based medicines. It represents an important step towards ensuring people with epilepsy who may benefit from cannabis-based medicines can access them safely and quickly.

“More research is needed into the safety and efficacy of cannabis-based medicines but yesterday’s recommendations will help push this vital research up the agenda. It is worth remembering that this is particularly important for people with rare, severe and treatment resistant epilepsies.                                                                         

“We thank the Chief Medical Officer, the ACMD and the government for their swift and thorough work but there is still more to do. We would urge the relevant authorities to set out which cannabis-based medicines will be made available for clinicians to prescribe as a matter of urgency.

“We look forward to the Home Secretary’s response to these recommendations and will continue to follow developments closely.”

The ACMD will also be providing longer-term advice to the UK government. The Home Office has said it is considering the recommendations and a decision will follow soon.

Cannabis for recreational use will remain illegal in the UK.


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