Senior clinicians will be able to legally prescribe cannabis-derived medicines this autumn, the UK’s Home Office has announced.
It follows a review into the use of the drug for medicinal purposes earlier this year, which recommended the reclassification of cannabis-derived medicines.
A ‘clear definition’ of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product will now be developed by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Medicines and Health products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Medicines that fit this definition will then be reclassified to Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulation 2001, allowing them to be prescribed.
Currently, cannabis oil, cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol (CBN) and CBN derivatives, are listed as class B/schedule 1 controlled drugs and are not recognised for medicinal and therapeutic uses in the country.
Home secretary Sajid Javid said: “Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory. This is why we launched a review and set up an expert panel to advise on the licence applications in exceptional circumstances.”
The two-part review was commissioned on 19 June by the home secretary. In the first part, chief medical advisor Professor Dame Sally Davies concluded there was evidence that medicinal cannabis had therapeutic benefits.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which carried out the second part of the review, recommended that the products that meet the definition of a cannabis-derived medicinal product should be rescheduled.
Mr Javid said: “Following advice from two sets of independent advisers, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products – meaning they will be available on prescription.”
“But this is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use,” he continued.
The Home Office and DHSC will also develop additional frameworks and guidelines to ensure that the products are prescribed safely and cannot be traded illicitly.
“We will be considering where there are ways to limit the field of prescribers and provide clinical advice to clinicians on prescribing when the changes come into force,” said a spokesman for the Home Office.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), which called for the government to reclassify the drug for medicinal use in June, said it welcomed the response.
Deputy director of the RPS in Scotland, Aileen Bryson, said: “We hope [this decision] will now very quickly allow these patients with exceptional clinical needs to have access to the medicinal products they require.”
‘This is a step in the right direction for healthcare policy in the UK, which has been lagging behind some other countries. It’s clear from emerging evidence that the cannabis plant has many therapeutic uses,” she added.
“We hope that the Westminster Government will also now consider our policy and the recommendations from the chief medical officer for England to reschedule cannabis, which would encourage more research and clinical trials to improve patient care in the longer term.”