The fight for fair access to medical cannabis goes on… three years after legalisation

4th November 2021

This week represents the third anniversary of medical cannabis legalisation in the UK. It would be fair to think that in that time, all patients who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines were able to access these products freely and easily. Unfortunately, that is still not the case.

Following multiple campaigns and the high profile cases of two child patients, Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, the UK government finally decided to re-schedule cannabis, effectively legalising the medical prescription of the drug.

This law change came into force on the 1st of November 2018. From this day, clinicians on the specialist register were able to prescribe medical cannabis products for any condition for which there was reason to believe it could be beneficial. On this day, patients, campaigners, and businesses rejoiced and were filled with hope for the future.

However, three years on, and access to medical cannabis is still tightly restricted through the NHS. The vast majority of patients who manage to access these medications have done so through private clinics with costs often amounting to hundreds – sometimes thousands – of pounds every month.

The fight for fair access to medical cannabis goes on... three years after legalisation
Cannabis Sativa plant

Through private clinics, medical cannabis prescriptions have been filled for a wide variety of conditions. These include pain conditions, sleep problems, multiple sclerosis, anxiety disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and many more conditions.

In contrast, guidelines laid out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) still only recommend the use of medical cannabis for a few conditions: treatment-resistant epilepsy, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and spasticity.

These guidelines, along with prescriber uncertainty and red tape, have contributed to extremely low levels of medical cannabis prescriptions through the NHS. In fact, reports show that only three NHS prescriptions have been issued in the last three years.

So, the fight for fair access to medical cannabis continues. This week, parents of patients with a range of conditions took to Downing Street, once again campaigning for improved access for the thousands of patients around the country who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines.

One of the organisers of the petition and demonstration is Peter Carroll, director of the End Our Pain campaign. He said:

“On the third-year anniversary of what should have been a landmark law change, rather than celebrate progress, we are here today to highlight a horrendous crisis. All the ‘powers that be’ continually express sympathy – but then simply explain why they can’t help.

“Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of one of the most sophisticated health establishments in the world to help these families.”

Also taking place this week, on the third anniversary of legalisation, is Medical Cannabis Awareness Week 2021 – an annual event that aims to highlight the continuous need for real-world evidence and the removal of red tape to evolve access to cannabis-based medicines to patients in the UK.

Visit PLEA’s website to find out how you can get involved in Medical Cannabis Awareness Week 2021.

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