Doctors will be able to prescribe cannabis products to patients from 1 November, the Home Secretary has announced.
Sajid Javid has decided to reschedule the products, relaxing the rules about the circumstances in which they can be given to patients, after considering expert advice from a specially commissioned review.
The new rules apply to England, Wales and Scotland, and follow several high-profile cases, including that of young epilepsy sufferers Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, whose conditions appeared to be helped by cannabis oil.
Cannabis is currently a “schedule 1” drug, which means it cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed, even though it could have therapeutic properties.
The change in law will see the drugs reclassified, meaning thousands could get access to ease symptoms such as the seizures brought on by epilepsy.
Alfie’s mother, Hannah Deacon, was one of many campaigners to welcome the move.
She said: “Today is a momentous day for every patient and family with a suffering child who wish to access medicinal cannabis.
“We urge the medical world to get behind these reforms so they can help the tens of thousands of people who are in urgent need of help.
“I have personally seen how my son’s life has changed due to the medical cannabis he is now prescribed.
“As a family we were facing his death. Now we are facing his life, full of joy and hope which is something I wish for each and every person in this country who could benefit from this medicine.”
Setting out the new regulations regarding cannabis-based products for medicinal use, Javid said: “This brings these products explicitly into the existing medicines framework.
“These regulations are not an end in themselves. The ACMD (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs) will be conducting a long-term review of cannabis and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has been commissioned to provide advice for clinicians by October next year.
“The Government will monitor the impact of the policy closely as the evidence base develops and review when the ACMD provides its final advice.”
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.
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 year 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.