The announcement came last week from Home Secretary Sajid Javid, that cannabis-based medicines will be rescheduled. This means that they will 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.
Senior clinicians will be able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines to those with an “exceptional clinical need”, Mr Javid stated.
In the meantime, clinicians can still put in applications for cannabis-based medicines to the expert panel that was set up last month. Any licence fees for applications already made and future applications will be waived, the Home Office has added.
The Home Office has said the next step is to develop a clear definition of what cannabis-based products are. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have been tasked with this. Only those products that meet those specifications will be moved out of Schedule 1.
The announcement has come after the results of the government review into the use of cannabis-based medicines launched last month. The review was sparked when Mr Javid used an exceptional power to issue a 12-year-old boy with a severe form of epilepsy a licence for cannabis oil.
Billy Caldwell’s cannabis oil was confiscated at Heathrow airport in June. His mother Charlotte had travelled to Canada to source the medicine for him. Without the treatment, Billy’s seizures worsened and he was admitted to hospital a few days after his medicine was confiscated. This prompted the government to issue a licence and set up the review.
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 in a number of different conditions. She concluded that cannabis-based medicines should no longer be classed as Schedule 1.
As part of the second stage of the UK government’s review into the use of cannabis-based medicines, the ACMD 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 be rescheduled.
It made a few recommendations to the government about cannabis-based medicines, including a clear definition of what they are from the DHSC and the MHRA. It 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.
The ACMD stressed that a lot more research and clinical trials are needed on the effectiveness and safety of these medicines.
Epilepsy Action said in a tweet on the day that this was “great news for some people with epilepsy”.
Alongside the MS Society, the MS Trust and a number of others, Epilepsy Action also wrote an open letter to the government published in the Evening Standard. The charities set out their suggestions on how cannabis-based medicines should be introduced in the UK.
They said cannabis grown to the European Medicines Agency’s good manufacturing practice should be used for these medicines. They added that medicinal cannabis should be regulated and monitored to avoid misuse and add to the data we have on it.
The ACMD will also be providing longer-term advice to the UK government.
Cannabis for recreational use will remain illegal in the UK.