Medical cannabis available in the UK on prescription within a month
Sajid Javid will announce within the next two weeks that cannabis will soon be available on prescription CREDIT: TIM ANDERSON/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP
6 OCTOBER 2018 • 9:30PM
Medical cannabis will be available on prescription in the UK within a month, The Telegraph can reveal.
The Home Office will announce the “rescheduling” of cannabis-derived medicines in Parliament, lifting restrictions which mean that until now it has only been allowed in the most exceptional circumstances.
Under the new rules, those suffering chronic pain, severe epilepsy or nausea as a result of chemotherapy could be prescribed the drug by specialist doctors, this newspaper understands.
An announcement is expected in Parliament within a fortnight – allowing the drug to be legally prescribed within a matter of weeks.
The changes, which follow a long battle by campaigners, mean Britain will be among the most liberal in Europe when it comes to medical cannabis, joining countries such as Germany which gave it the green light last year.
There are an estimated 28 million people living with chronic pain in the UK, including those suffering from conditions such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The MS Society estimates that 10,000 people suffering from that condition alone could benefit from the treatment.
But it is not known how many cases will be granted access to the drugs.
Charlotte Keen | Epilepsy and learning difficulties
MARTIN BEDDALL FOR THE TELEGRAPH
Charlotte Keen will be 30 years old next month, but she has the mental age of a 12-month-old baby.
She has always had severe learning difficulties, but aged 16 she was diagnosed with epilepsy and has violent seizures every three days. After the worst of them, it can take more than 24 hours for her to recover. Her mother Cheryl says it makes them a prisoner in their own home.
Some of Charlotte’s more severe seizures bring on a condition, where her heart rate stays more than double its normal level for up to six hours. Eventually, Cheryl says, her condition will kill her.
Charlotte takes cannabis oil, which Cheryl orders over the internet, and she says it brought the time between her seizures up to 11 days.
“She was like a different child. She was back to what she was like ten years ago,” she says.
“The carers couldn’t believe it when they saw, because they’d never seen her sort of ‘normal’ state.”
Cheryl describes herself as “the most anti-drug person on the planet”. When she suspected tablets hidden in her son’s guitar case were party pills, she called the police. They turned out to be bodybuilding supplements from Holland and Barrett.
Now, she supplies her daughter with cannabis oil in an attempt to halt her seizures.
“What are we actually doing, when we’re getting it illegally like this?” she asks.
“Although it’s supposed to be tested and it’s supposed to be clean, you just don’t know, do you? I don’t want to do it this way at all.”
The National Insitute of Health and Care Excellence is due to review routine funding of treatment on the NHS but will not issue its findings until next year.
Until then, decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Former science minister George Freeman said he wanted to see the UK go further than other countries when it comes to prescription of medical cannabis, urging Britain to “lead the world in the enlightened regulation of modern medicine.”
He also suggested the changes could mean a “huge business opportunity” for Britain, which already produces 60 per cent of the world’s cannabis for pharmaceutical research.
The rescheduling applies only to cannabis oil that contains THC, an active chemical which produces “highs” when the drug is used recreationally.
Cannabis oil which does not contain THC is legal in the UK and can be purchased at high street stores.
The move will see cannabis-derived medicinal products move out of Schedule 1, the strictest category for drugs with potential professional uses which require a Home Office licence, and into Schedule 2.
Ben Griffiths | Epilepsy and cerebral palsy
Nine-year-old Ben Griffiths has up to 100 seizures a day, which cause him to fall immediately to the floor.
His mother Joanne points to photos of him with bruises and cuts on his face, caused by hitting furniture on his way down, and a living room scattered with beanbags.
“This is what we live with on a daily basis,” she says.
“As you can imagine, we’ve been looking at medicinal cannabis for some time and just waiting and waiting for it to be rescheduled so the doctors can prescribe it medically.”
For a while she tried CBD oil, a legal cannabis product without the active ingredient THC, but it made little difference to his condition and the seizures continued.
Ben is a twin, and the youngest of six children in their house in Lancashire. Joanne says his condition is hard on his brother, who doesn’t have a playmate his own age.
“It’s hard for us too, because we see one son doing so well at school, and playing football and doing all the things a kid should be doing, and then we have this other son that can’t do any of that. And that’s heartbreaking,” she says.
Joanne says she will ask her doctor to prescribe cannabis oil under the new rules.
“Parents like me get used to your child having seizures, and what people think is quite horrific is normal everyday life.
“The only thing is, I’m here with my child who is seriously ill, desperate to get my hands on this medicine.”
News of the announcement comes after a protracted campaign to make medicinal cannabis available to children with epilepsy.
This culminated in a stand-off between the Home Office and Charlotte Caldwell, mother of 13-year-old Billy Caldwell, in June, when drugs prescribed for him in the United States were seized at Heathrow Airport.
The decision by Home Secretary Sajid Javid to allow legal prescription of medical cannabis by specialists follows a review by England’s chief medical officer, earlier this year.
It follows reluctance from the Prime Minister, who had long opposed any relaxation of rules on marijuana.
Since the summer, families with the support of specialist clinicians have been able to apply for permission to use cannabis oil from a panel of medical experts.
Both Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, both of whom have severe epilepsy, were granted permission to use the oil, but many other parents have since had their applications denied.
After the rescheduling this autumn, users will no longer have to try many other opiate-based epileptic drugs before being allowed to use cannabis oil.
Louise Baker | Breast cancer
MARTIN BEDDALL FOR THE TELEGRAPH
Louise Baker says she was a “bit shocked” in February to find out that she had breast cancer at 44.
She started taking cannabis oil that she bought from a drug dealer, but soon found out that he was also an addict. He began to abuse her on the phone, insulting her and making her fear for her safety.
Eventually she found somewhere else to buy it, and says it was “amazing” for pain relief in her breast after surgery.
She has it delivered to her home in West Sussex, ordered online through a new supplier that she trusts.
“I’m so anti-drugs you wouldn’t believe, but this isn’t drugs, it’s medicine,” she says.
Like many others, she worries that “if they don’t legalise it, you don’t know where you’re getting it from”.
And while she welcomes the announcement that cannabis products are to be rescheduled, previous experience makes her cautious too.
“It’s amazing if it gets released, but we’ve got to do this properly,” she says.
“That’s why I’m not getting excited about it, because I don’t believe it – it’s too good to be true.”
In fact, The Sunday Telegraph understands that cannabis will only be available for cancer patients suffering with nausea caused by chemotherapy, which Louise has not had.
“It works and people should be able to get it,” she says.
“It’s a crime to hold this back. It needs to stop – it’s not about money and greed, it’s about our health.”
Speaking to The Telegraph, Ms Caldwell said that her son’s condition had improved dramatically since being allowed to continue taking the oil.
“I feel absolutely, truly blessed from the bottom of my heart, that Billy has had access to this medicine.
“I’m also very conscious that there are hundreds of thousands of other families in the United Kingdom that need this medicine, and need it now,” she said.
Ms Caldwell and Paul Birch, a philanthropist who supported Billy Caldwell’s campaign in June, will on Monday launch the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis. The body will lobby the government to widen access to cannabis in the UK.