British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has announced that doctors working in England, Scotland, and Wales will be able to prescribe cannabis-derived medicine, starting November 1. Meanwhile, officials are currently working with the Department for Health in Northern Ireland to implement similar changes there
The law change follows a two-part review of the use of medical cannabis in June and its legalization in July.
“We have now delivered on our promise and specialist doctors will have the option to prescribe these products where there is a real need,” Javid said in a statement.
This means patients will not be able to obtain prescriptions from their general practitioner (GP). Instead, they must make an appointment with a specialist doctor – a neurologist or pediatrician, for example – who can prescribe the medicine on a case-by-case basis and only when the patient has a medical problem that cannot be treated with a licensed product.
There are three access routes for the order, supply, and use of cannabis-based products laid out in a written statement. Those are "a special medicinal product for use in accordance with a prescription or direction of a doctor", "an investigational medicinal product without marketing authorization for use in a clinical trial", and a "medicinal product with a marketing authorization".
This will make some cannabis-based products Schedule 2 category drugs, therefore making them legal to use in a medical context. Before this, all cannabis-based products were Schedule 1, meaning they could be used in research but were not thought to have any medical benefit.
So, what changed? Legislation legalizing cannabis-based products (at least in a medical setting) has drawn a lot of attention and support in the UK in the wake similar policy in the US and a number of high profile cases of epileptic children being denied access to cannabis oil.
While research linking cannabinoids to better health hasn't been without criticism, there is evidence to suggest it can have therapeutic effects on a range of conditions from epilepsy to chronic pain, IBS, and Alzheimer's. The general consensus in the scientific community, however, is that more rigorous and higher quality studies are needed to substantiate the harms and benefits of taking cannabis.
For those who hope this piece of legislation is a step on the road to full legalization of cannabis in all contexts, you may be in for a disappointment.
“I have been consistently clear that I have no intention of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis," Javid said.
The Government has also made it clear that these regulations "are not an end in themselves". The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will be conducting a long-term review of cannabis and the policy itself will be open to change as the evidence-base develops.