Doctors in the UK will be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients starting in the fall of this year, according to a government announcement made yesterday (July 26). The move follows national debate over high-profile cases in which children with severe epilepsy were first denied, then allowed access to cannabis oil shown to ease the symptoms of the condition.
“Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory,” Interior Minister Sajid Javid told reporters yesterday, according to Reuters. “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.”
Until now, cannabis has been considered a Schedule 1 substance, a legal classification that means the plant can be used by researchers with a license, but is not thought to have any therapeutic value. Yesterday’s announcement indicates that cannabis-derived products intended for medicinal use will now be classified as Schedule 2, allowing them to be prescribed directly to patients by specialist physicians.
Before autumn, the government will clarify which types of products will meet the definition of medicinal. In the interim, “clinicians may still apply to the Home Office Expert Panel should they wish to use a cannabis-based medicine in the treatment of a patient,” a Home Office spokesperson told reporters, according to BBC News.
Karen Gray, a woman whose child suffers from epilepsy and who has campaigned for the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use, tells The Independent that the decision is a victory for those seeking treatment. “It’s really going to help children out there, so it’s brilliant news,” she says. “There are lots of kids out there who aren’t getting this help and hopefully now they will.”
Mike Barnes, a physician at neurological rehabilitation specialist Christchurch Group who secured access to cannabis oil for a child with epilepsy earlier this year, tells The Guardian that he hopes the rules won’t be “too restrictive, but sensibly open up the way to make good quality, safe cannabis available on prescription.”
Other countries that have already allowed medical marijuana include Australia, Germany, and Peru, along with some states in the US. Recreational use is currently fully legalized in Uruguay and, as of this June, Canada.