UK legalises medicinal cannabis

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Medically prescribed cannabis is now legally available in the UK. What’s caused the change in policy? What does it mean for access to medical cannabis in England, Scotland and Wales?

What’s changed?

After concluding that cannabis can have therapeutic benefits for certain health conditions, the UK government has decided to relax the laws governing access to the drug. As of the 1st November 2018, doctors can prescribe cannabis-based medicine to their patients.

This does not mean that cannabis for medical use as a whole is now legal. A product must fit three broad requirements. Prescribed products:

  • must be or contain cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol (CBN) or cannabinol derivatives
  • must be produced for medical use in humans
  • must be regulated as a medicinal product or an ingredient in a medicinal product

What’s prompted the change?

The UK is not the first country to have legalised medical cannabis, some 30 other nations have legalised it in some capacity. So, what’s prompted the UK to join the trend?

The health benefits of medical cannabis are becoming increasingly recognised. It’s argued it can be used to effectively control chronic pain, relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, ease tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease and control certain epileptic seizures. In light of these benefits, the UK’s decision should not come as a surprise. By making cannabis-based medicines more readily available, a lot of people suffering from certain conditions could be helped.

The change also follows a few high-profile cases involving sick children in the country. These cases sparked public demand for a review of the UK’s policy, with the home secretary announcing that the country’s ‘position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory’.

Who will have access?

There are still concerns that not all who could benefit from medical cannabis will have access to it. The change in policy only allows specialised doctors (doctors who specialise in one field of medicine and are listed on the General Medical Council register) to prescribe cannabis-based medicines, meaning a local GP cannot. As most people are not under the care of a specialist, this will place a serious limitation on access. As, Clark French, the founder and director of United Patients Alliance, states ‘the law change is brilliant…but it’s by no means enough…what the government needs to do is allow GPs to prescribe cannabis as well’.