Beginning 1 November 2018, physicians in the UK will be able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines to their patients without seeking outside approval from an expert panel.
The change is the result of a new law laid in the country’s Parliament on Thursday that comes after the government launched a review of medical cannabis following two high-profile cases of children with epilepsy being denied access to the drug
“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,” said Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who in July reclassified
cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug, meaning it can be legally possessed by anyone with a prescription.
In the interim between the rescheduling and when the new law takes effect, doctors who wish to prescribe medical cannabis must first seek approval from an expert panel before their patients can get the drug.
According to a statement released by the UK Home Office, the new law “will not limit the types of conditions that can be considered for treatment,” which should address some concerns that the new law may limit which patients are eligible.
However, the law does place some restrictions on physicians and patients. Under the law, general practitioners cannot prescribe marijuana, so patients will need to see a specialist such as a neurologist or pediatrician to get a prescription. The specialist must also determine that the patient has an “unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products.”
Additionally, the law does not specify what constitutes a cannabis-based medicine, though it is clear that not all forms of cannabis will qualify for prescription use.
The UK Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have been directed to develop a definition for cannabis-based medicines, and the government has said that all other forms of the drug “will be kept under strict controls and will not be available on prescription.”
In 2016, MHRA said
it considered products containing cannabidiol (CBD) to be medicines and thus subject to regulatory review prior to marketing.
The shift towards expanding access to cannabis-based medicines comes as drugmakers, most notably the UK’s GW Pharmaceuticals, look to develop pharmaceuticals based on chemicals found in cannabis.
One of GW’s CBD-containing drugs, Sativex, is already authorized in the UK, and the company has submitted a marketing authorization application for another CBD-containing drug, Epidiolex, to the European Medicines Agency for review.