When it comes to the legalities surrounding marijuana use here in the UK, you could be forgiven if you’re left feeling bewildered and unsure on what is and isn’t currently acceptable. Over the last 12 months or so, the cannabis industry has taken some positive strides here in the UK, but it hasn’t come without a host of confusion and specifics which have left even the most avid marijuana supporters feeling a little confused as to what’s going on.
One such huge update happened recently, as not one, but two cannabis-based drugs have been approved for UK use! Fantastic news, but not everyone is satisfied as millions of patients are left without treatment options due to legal restrictions on these recently approved drugs.
So, is progress as good as it appears, or are we taking two steps forwards and one step back when it comes to the medicinal use of the marijuana plant in the UK?
The good news is there are now effective treatments available for three hard to treat conditions. . .
Despite criticism, the fact still remains that this new change in the law has led to children in the UK having access to an effective drug which combats one of the most severe symptoms associated with two rare and hard to treat forms of epilepsy known as Lennox- Gastaut and Dravet syndrome.
Manufactured here in the UK by GW Pharmaceuticals, cannabis-based drug Epidyolex has been utilised in the U.S. since 2018 to treat these two rare forms of childhood-onset epilepsy. However, it has taken until September 2019 for the drug to be approved here in the UK, at which time it was deemed too expensive by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). After negotiations between the NHS and GW Pharmaceuticals on the price, Epidyolex is now officially able to be prescribed to children suffering from Lennox-Gastaut or Dravet syndrome, both of which have very little success with other more traditional epilepsy medications.
Epidyolex has shown to reduce the frequency of seizures in these two forms of epilepsy significantly, making this a critical step in the direction for the treatment of these conditions and transforming the lives of young sufferers and their families.
That’s not all, either as we can’t forget the original cannabis-based drug also approved now for use here in the UK, Sativex. Sativex is a mouth spray which was approved for use in Wales back in 2014, and thanks to the recent legal change allowing specialist doctors to prescribe approved cannabis-based drugs as of November 2018, it can now be prescribed in the UK too!
Sativex is the first ever cannabis-based drug to be legalised for UK use following clinical trials and can be prescribed solely for the treatment of muscle spasms in those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The fine print surrounding prescribing cannabis-based medicines in the UK
Despite the obvious positives, there are a few issues which must be addressed in order to get the full picture here. Although these two cannabis-based medicines are now approved to treat seizures in children with Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndrome and muscle spasms in MS patients, there are some drawbacks.
Despite legal changes, many doctors still remain reluctant to prescribe cannabis-based drugs due to uncertainty around guidance on how to prescribe and issues around funding for the drugs. Of course, this has been met with a backlash from charities as millions of patients are left without treatments, leaving them at a loss as to what to do, with some even sourcing unregulated drugs from illegal and untrustworthy sources.
Another major criticism of the recent changes is that although Sativex can be administered to those suffering with MS to treat muscle spasms, there is no cannabis-based drug legally available for the treatment of pain, which is another common and debilitating symptom of the condition. This is of course despite ample evidence suggesting marijuana’s potential to treat symptoms of pain, something that can be accessed over in the U.S. for a range of conditions.
Moving forwards, we can only hope that the discussion around cannabis-based medicine will continue.