By Emily Ledger
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked former ministers Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, Theresa Villiers MP, and George Freeman MP to identify ways in which the UK can take advantage of its new, post-Brexit regulatory freedoms to stimulate growth, innovation, and competition across the country.
The Taskforce for Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) today reported its findings to the Prime Minister.
Using evidence from international examples and leading scientists working in this area, the taskforce concluded that “sensible, but limited, reforms to the current licensing process could unlock significant investment into UK medical research into cannabinoids for pain relief.”
The report states that there are two problems with the existing licensing rules around medical cannabis and medicinal CBD:
1. The first is the difficulties and barriers currently faced by scientists looking to conduct research into the medical potential of cannabis and its derivatives.
In order to help solve this problem, the taskforce recommends that the regulation of medical cannabis and medicinal CBD should be moved from the Home Office to DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care)/MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency).
This could essentially make it easier for medical cannabis research to take place here in the UK, providing much-needed evidence to aid in the improvement of access to medical cannabis products.
2. Secondly, the taskforce highlighted that dichotomy that, despite the UK seeing a fast-growing, legal consumer market for “medicinal CBD for a range of pain and neurological conditions”, current Home Office regulation makes it impossible for these products to be produced in the UK.
(Under current Home Office rules, hemp farmers in the UK must destroy the CBD-rich flowers and leaves of their plants, meaning that CBD companies must import their products from abroad.)
The TIGRR report recommends that the government should also move the licensing regime for cannabinoid pharmaceutical research and CBD over-the-counter medicines from the Home Office to the DHSC/MHRA, and “create a regulatory pathway for approving these products using an evidence-based assessment of their medicinal effects.”
The authors note that this is currently prevented as the rules around CBD medicines are not satisfactorily separated from criminal laws on banned substances derived from cannabis.
The recommendations – in particular, the proposal to move the licensing regime for cannabinoid clinical research and consumer cannabinoids to the DHSC/MHRA – have been welcomed by The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC), the UK’s first and only industry membership body for businesses and investors operating in the medical cannabis market.
Steve Moore, Founder of the CMC, said of the recommendations:
“On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act, and three years on from the law changing to permit the prescribing of medicinal cannabis, this is exactly the news the nascent UK cannabinoid sector has been crying out for.
“The future of this industry will be forged in product innovation and research and development. That senior government advisors now recognise that is incredibly important.”
Dr Andy Yates, Pharmacy Lead at the CMC, also commented:
“I am delighted to see cannabinoid medicines feature as a specific area of focus in this report. Should these proposals, which aim to separate the medical benefits of cannabinoids from the criminal law associated with substance abuse, be adopted then it will benefit all three sectors of the legal cannabinoid industry.
!The UK already is a leading market for consumer nutraceuticals and specials and licensed medicines containing cannabinoids and these proposals will not only support the growth of all of these sectors but will lead to increased investment and innovation here within the shores of the UK.
“Outside of the specific cannabinoid medicines proposals included in the report, the further proposals related to optimising and modernising the clinical trials environment and the nutraceutical and consumer health sector here in the UK. As a package of measures, this will truly create a go-to environment for cannabinoid innovation now and well out into the future.”
Dr Parveen Bhatarah, Regulatory Lead at the CMC, added:
“These recommendations will assist in the development of general skills related to medicinal and consumer cannabinoid for the nutraceutical industry, which has not been nurtured due to the existing regulatory framework in place.
“These recommendations will assist in data generation for improved consumer safety and accelerated sustainable business growth in the cannabinoid sector.”
In a letter of response following the reception of the TIGRR report, the prime minister stated: “we will give your report the detailed consideration it deserves, consult widely across industry and civil society, and publish a response as soon as is practicable.”