As of today, expert doctors can legally issue prescriptions for cannabis-based products for medicinal use. Prescribing decisions for medicinal cannabis are restricted to clinicians listed on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council.
This follows the change of law in October which gave specialist clinicians the option to legally issue prescriptions on a case-by-case basis, when the patient has unmet clinical needs.
The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England have issued guidance for doctors on prescribing, monitoring, clinical guidelines and pharmacovigilance. The guidance says that: “Due to the limited evidence base and their unlicensed nature, the Government has chosen to restrict the decision to prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use to only those clinicians listed on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council.”
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is producing a clinical guideline on the prescribing of cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans. The guidance will support specialist doctors with their prescribing decisions and is expected by October 2019.
Whilst NICE is preparing the guidance, the British Paediatric Neurology Association (BPNA) is developing clinical advice on the use of cannabis-based products in paediatric patients with certain forms of severe epilepsy. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is also developing additional advice around prescribing for use in intractable chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting and chronic pain.
Spectrum Cannabis, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canopy Growth Corporation has commented. “Today is a landmark day for patients living with severe debilitating conditions here in the UK who will now be able to be use cannabis-based medicinal products as prescribed by their specialist clinician,” said Dr Mark Ware, Chief Medical Officer, Canopy Growth Corporation. “This is accompanied by a need to educate specialists on the safe use of cannabis-based medicines while full guidance is being developed.”
“The UK’s rescheduling of cannabis-based medicine has come about from a groundswell of patient need, but is rooted in scientific evidence and experience. There is a significant real-world experience and clinical evidence pointing to the fact that cannabis-based medicines can be safe and effective treatments for some patients with unmet clinical needs, for instance in the areas of cancer pain and chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting,” said Professor Marie Fallon of The University of Edinburgh.
Spectrum Cannabis anticipates high unmet need for cannabis-based medicinal products in the UK. Following the introduction of legislation for access to medical cannabis in Germany in 2017, prescriptions grew from 1,000 to nearly 80,000 prescriptions in the first half of 2018. In Canada, the patient base in the federal system has grown from 35,000 in 2013 to approximately 350,000 today. In 2016, the End Our Pain campaign estimated that 1m people across the UK already rely on cannabis for medical reasons.