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Weed NHS

You can now get cannabis-based medicine on the NHS

Two new drugs have been approved – but where are the rest?

If you suffer from epilepsy or multiple sclerosis (MS), you might be pleased to hear the news today that a new drug for each condition has been approved for NHS use, both cannabis-based, and both found to be effective by NICE, the organisation that chooses which drugs we can get on the NHS.

Epidyolex has been approved for Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet Syndrome, which are two rare types of epilepsy experienced by between 8,000 and 9,000 people in the UK. A drug called Sativex (in spray form) has been recommended for MS muscle spasms.

Back in 2018, the UK Government announced that it would become legal to prescribe medical marijuana after the landmark case of a 12-year-old boy with a rare form of epilepsy was given an emergency prescription by doctors in Northern Ireland. 

At the time, home secretary Sajid Javid said: “This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need,” but clarified it did not mean that marijuana would be legalised for recreational use.

Since then, many doctors have remained reluctant to prescribe medical marijuana, “citing a lack of clear guidance,” according to The Guardian. “As a result, families have gone abroad in search of treatment,” they report. 

On top of this, while the new legalisation of cannabis-based drugs is a good thing, charities say that we’re still missing a big opportunity to use cannabis-based products to treat chronic pain after NICE recently advised that products with THC should not be made available. 

Millie Hinton, from the campaign End Our Pain, said: “It is particularly devastating that there is no positive recommendation that the NHS should allow prescribing of whole plant medical cannabis containing both CBD (cannabidiol) and THC in appropriate cases of intractable childhood epilepsy.”

She added: “This restrictive guidance is condemning many patients to have to pay for life-transforming medicine privately, to go without or to consider accessing illegal and unregulated source.”

For now then, like Carly Barton – the woman who was prescribed cannabis through a private doctor last December, and paid £2500 for it just to prove a point to the NHS – people with pain conditions and other rare conditions in the UK will have to wait for more cannabis-based drugs or medicinal marijuana to become available.