Doctors in the UK can prescribe cannabis-derived medicine after the government announced a relaxation of laws governing access to the substance.
Thousands of people with drug-resistant conditions will potentially be able to use cannabis-derived medicinal products for treatment after the home secretary, Sajid Javid, announced they should be placed in schedule 2 of the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations, allowing clinicians to prescribe them by the autumn.
Cannabis has been classed as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it is thought to have no therapeutic value and cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed. It may be used for the purposes of research, but a Home Office licence is required.
The move by the home secretary comes after the government’s official drug advisers and the chief medical officer for England, Sally Davies, separately concluded there was evidence of therapeutic benefit for some conditions.
The reviews came after a number of high-profile cases involving children being denied access to cannabis oil to control epileptic seizures. The cases included those of Billy Caldwell, 12, and Alfie Dingley, six, who have forms of intractable epilepsy, also known as refractory epilepsy, that appear to be eased by the use of cannabis oil.
Announcing the changes, Javid said: “Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory.
“This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need, but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.”
When the review was announced, there were reports of divisions within the cabinet over the approach that should be taken – with the prime minister, Theresa May, disagreeing that a review should go ahead.
But Javid, who commissioned both reviews, told parliament that if experts identified significant medical and therapeutic benefits, he would be minded to follow their advice.
Announcing the review, Javid ruled out legalising the drug for recreational use after interventions by the former Conservative leader William Hague and police officials.
The Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will now develop a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product so they can be rescheduled and prescribed. Only products meeting this definition will be rescheduled.
Author: Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent