Doctors discouraged from providing medicinal cannabis one year after legalisation

In 2018, the discussion on the benefits of medicinal cannabis reached a crescendo with the UK Government ultimately legalising the use of medicinal cannabis. One year on: doctors are continually being discouraged from providing the prescription.

LEGALISATION

On 11 October 2018, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced medicinal cannabis would be made legal in the UK on 1 November of the same year. 

In a statement he said: “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.

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

At the time, we spoke with MP for Edinburgh and West, Christine Jardine – who had been campaigning for medicinal cannabis to be legalised to help her constituent, five-year-old (at the time) Murray Gray who was experiencing debilitating seizures from epilepsy.

She said: “I think it’s fantastic that it’s going to be available now. It’s a shame it’s taken so long and so many people have had to put up with pain when it wasn’t necessary, children like Murray in my constituency have been affected when a solution was there, something to help was there.

“I understand why people had reservations, but now we can get in and ensure people can have their suffering relieved.”

However, one year later, research has revealed doctors are continually being blocked or discouraged from prescribing the drug as a form of treatment. 

ONE YEAR ON

The MS Society has found that people living with multiple sclerosis are still being denied this form of treatment. 

Dr Eli Silber, consultant neurologist at Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The legalisation of medicinal cannabis has so far not allowed me to help any of my MS patients.

“In fact, the current limitations on prescribing and funding actively discourage clinicians from prescribing cannabis, leaving no flexibility for us to act in the best interest of our patients.” 

The argument on medicinal cannabis has been ongoing with the benefits of CBD (which is derived from the marijuana plant, and not the substance that causes symptoms that come from smoking or ingesting cannabis) clear for people living with epilepsy, MS, and other chronic conditions.

“There is clearly a significant unmet need among people who have not responded or cannot tolerate to other drugs for pain and spasticity,” emphasised Dr Eli Silber. “We need to see urgent action so these people can finally access a potentially effective treatment.”

AVAILABLE

Noeline, age 64, from Cumbria has lived with MS since 2013. She had been taking Sativex, a cannabis-based spray licensed to treat spasticity in MS.

Although it is deemed safe and effective, Sativex isn’t routinely available on the NHS in England due to cost, so Noeline’s only option was to pay for a private prescription.

Noeline said: “Sativex really helped me. It took away the pain, which meant I could sleep. The cramps and muscle spasms can keep me up all night and the pain can be unbearable. But I couldn’t afford to keep paying for Sativex, I was only able to take it for nine months.

“When the law changed I asked my doctor about whether I could get medicinal cannabis but he just laughed and said it was all a farce. He said he couldn’t prescribe it for a good few years yet because of all the red tape. 

“I had my hopes built up and then when I got the knock-back I was gutted. I know cannabis won’t give me back the life I used to have, but getting some sort of relief would be a massive help.”

It appears the fight for medicinal cannabis continues, in a bid to help the thousands of people across the UK in need of the drug.

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