By Emily Ledger
Scottish patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) are launching a campaign calling for improved access to medical cannabis products that have been approved as a treatment for their condition.
In the UK, Sativex – an oral cannabis spray containing CBD and THC – has been approved for the treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. Spasticity is a common symptom of the condition and is characterised by painful muscle tightness and spasm.
Sativex is currently available on the NHS in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, however, is currently only available through private clinics in Scotland under individual patient treatment requests, which are can be a time-consuming and uncertain process.
There are reportedly more than 15,000 people with MS in Scotland alone – 80% of which will experience spasticity at some point in their life.
Studies have shown that medical cannabis can be useful in reducing spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. Other treatments that are commonly used include muscle relaxants such as Baclofen and Tizanidine.
Medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2019, however, prescriptions need to be overseen by a specialist clinician. A year later, the National Instituts for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) released their recommendations for the use of cannabis-based products.
However, NHS prescriptions have remained critically low, leaving most patients to choose between black market cannabis and private clinics that can incur significant costs.
According to the MS Society (UK): “One in five people with MS we surveyed in 2014 told us they’d used cannabis to help with their symptoms.” Respondents to this survey claimed that medical cannabis had helped with muscle spasms and stiffness (spasticity) and pain.
This month, the MS Society has launched its campaign to end the “postcode lottery” that is currently dictating the availability of medical cannabis products to MS patients in England. Patients in Scotland have now launched their own campaign for improved access to Sativex.
Morna Simpkins, MS Society Scotland director, said: “Approval for this treatment would give all clinicians the confidence to prescribe something that can be life-changing for so many people.”
Fredi Cavander-Attwood, policy manager at the MS Society, said “MS can be relentless, painful and disabling, and getting the treatment you need shouldn’t be a game of chance. Sativex doesn’t work for everyone with MS, but when it does work, the impact can be life-changing.”