More than 80 patients have been prescribed CBD oil on the NHS since medical cannabis was legalised last year, it has been revealed.
Amid an outcry from families about a lack of prescriptions for epileptic children, the government’s head of pharmacy regulation told MPs that a cannabis extract had been given to dozens of NHS patients over the past five months.
“It is Epidiolex that is being made available… it has been made available to over 80 patients on the NHS already,” Alette Addison said, adding that the medicine is currently going through the licensing system.
The CBD oil does not currently contain THC, or tetrahydryocannabinol, which is found in cannabis or marijuana, she added.
Since November, specialist doctors have been able to prescribe medical cannabis – which is currently unlicensed – to patients with conditions which cannot be successfully managed with licensed drugs.
But the relatively small number of prescriptions has caused outrage among campaigners, with the families of 16 children with intractable epilepsy travelling to Westminster on Tuesday to lobby MPs.
A petition signed by a number of MPs calling on the government and the NHS to do more to increase medical cannabis prescriptions was handed over at Downing Street.
Head of the ‘End Our Pain’ campaign, Peter Carroll, told parliament’s health and social care committee the current system was a “shambles”.
“Families are just routinely told: ’We can’t do it. We’re not allowed to do it. We don’t want to do it,” he said.
“To be honest, I’m in a situation where I thought our job as campaigners and advocates was done on the first of November – time to move on,” said Carroll, who helped to run a campaign last year to get legal cannabis oil for six-year-old Alfie Dingley, who suffers from a rare illness that causes up to 150 seizures a month.
“But I am shocked and horrified that we are in a situation where the law has changed but cases like Alfie Dingley would not qualify under the new guidance to get a prescription.”
England’s chief medical officer Sally Davies told MPs that randomised controlled trials must be carried out on medical cannabis as soon as possible in a bid to get it licensed.
“We do need the doctors to get used to the idea of prescribing cannabis. But it will always – until we have a licence – be at their own risk as an unlicensed medicine,” she said.
“The only way we can get it licensed is through doing randomised controlled trials. My belief is that we need to get on and do that as fast as we can… without that what we will do is just dish it out if the doctors will.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The government has changed the law and specialist doctors can now prescribe cannabis based medical products where there is clinical evidence of benefit.
“To support these doctors we have asked NICE to develop new clinical guidelines and Health Education England to provide additional training, while encouraging more national research to further improve the evidence base.”
The department has been approached by HuffPost UK for further comment.