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From today, doctors in Britain will be able to prescribe cannabis-derived medicine to patients, in what’s being called a “long overdue and historical day.”

A change in the law came into effect on November 1 allowing specialist doctors – not your local GP – to prescribed cannabis-based medicinal products on a case-by-case basis for conditions where other medicines have failed, as per a statement from the UK Home Office. Furthermore, doctors will no longer need to seek approval from an expert panel in order for patients to access the medicines.

A big factor in the decision has been the dogged efforts of campaigners and highly publicized cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, two children with severe epilepsy who were denied access to cannabis oil despite it being the only medicine that had any relieving effect on their condition.

“Having been moved by heartbreaking cases involving sick children, it was important to me that we took swift action to help those who can benefit from medicinal cannabis,” Home Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement.

“We have now delivered on our promise and specialist doctors will have the option to prescribe these products where there is a real need.”

Jon Liebling, Political Director of the pressure group United Patients Alliance, said in their own statement: “This is a long overdue and historical day for medical cannabis in the UK.”

Cannabis-derived medicine will be freely available through the National Health Service (NHS). According to new guidelines, it should only be prescribed when there is “clear published evidence of benefit” to the patient.

Research into the medicinal properties of cannabis is still in its early days. However, a number of small studies have shown that it could hold some true potential in the treatment of all manner of health problems, such as alleviating chronic pain, controlling muscle spasms associated with epilepsy, and reducing nausea in chemotherapy patients.

Until today, cannabis was listed as a Schedule 1 drug in the UK, which means it is judged to have no therapeutic value but can be used for research. Now, certain cannabis products are a Schedule 2 drug, meaning they have a potential medical use.

However, it’s worth remembering that most forms of cannabis remain a Class B drug, so possession of the substance for recreational use it could still land you in trouble with the law.

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