Thousands of patients with drug-resistant conditions will soon be able to get medicinal cannabis on prescription, after the Home Office announced it would be reclassifying the drugs.
Cannabis is currently a “schedule 1” drug, which means it cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed, even though it could have therapeutic properties.
But today’s announcement will see the drugs reclassified, meaning thousands could get access to ease symptoms such as the seizures brought on by epilepsy.
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said in the announcement: “Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory.”
He said following advice from two sets of independent advisors, he had “taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products”.
“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,” he said.
The issue has gained traction in recent months after after the high-profile case of epileptic boy Billy Caldwell, whose mother, Charlotte, campaigned to gain access to cannabis oil, which she said keeps his seizures at bay.
She was purchasing the medication in Canada as she was not allowed to have it in the UK, but had it seized from her when she returned to Heathrow on June 11.
Subsequently Billy was rushed to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in a critical condition having suffered multiple seizures. Javid then granted a 20-day emergency licence granting use of the oil.
Speaking of Thursday’s decision, Charlotte Caldwell said: “It’s over; it’s unbelievable, incredible. It’s been an eternity and the click of the fingers at the same time.
“For the first time in months I’m almost lost for words, other than ‘thank-you Sajid Javid’.”
Hannah Deacon, mother of a six-year-old Alfie Dingley, who suffers from epilepsy, spoke last month of the difference cannabis oil has made to her son’s life, saying she feared he would have to go into a home without it.
Deacon said conventional steroid treatment made him violent towards her and his sister Annie, three, and she worried she would not be able to control him as he got older.
Deacon has spent £30,000 on the “miracle” tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) treatment for her son – who also has other learning and speech difficulties – legally in the Netherlands.
The result, she said, had been a reduction in seizures from 300 or more a month, often requiring an emergency dash to hospital, to just one.
The drug will also help in cases such as that of Sophia Gibson, aged seven, who has Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy which causes what her family describe as “frequent and dangerous fits”.
Her mother, Danielle, said cannabis oil relieves the symptoms of Sophia’s condition and could drastically reduce the number of seizures she endures.
Sophia had been granted a long-term licence for the use of medicinal cannabis but until now, these have only been granted on a case-by-case basis.
Earlier this month the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said there is “evidence of medicinal benefit of some of these products in certain circumstances” and recommended they should be able to be prescribed as long as they meet appropriate safety standards.
It advised Javid that cannabis-derived medicinal products should be placed in Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, following a commission from the Home Office to review the scheduling of cannabis-derived medicinal products.
As the understanding of the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis-derived products is still developing, the ACMD recommends that clinical trials urgently take place to further establish the safety and effectiveness of different products.
The ACMD has also recommended that synthetic cannabinoids, which are found in street products such as Spice, remain in Schedule 1 pending a longer term review by the ACMD.