15 April 2024
Medical Cannabis

My Parliamentary colleagues and I are aware of cases where cannabis-based medicine is successfully treating constituents with very specific conditions and in very exceptional circumstances.

Whilst EDM 1410 was tabled in the last parliamentary session and has therefore lapsed, I recognise the challenges faced by many patients with chronic conditions in accessing medicinal cannabis, and note the issues being raised around prescribing cannabis medicines by healthcare professionals. I would be happy to raise this with the relevant Minister to make them aware of the strength of feeling on these issues.

I understand that, particularly for parents whose children are suffering or in pain, there is continued frustration that it is not easily accessible. Although the scheduling of cannabis-based products changed in 2018, this has not translated into significant clinical use.  

Each case is judged individually, and I believe that the decision should remain solely with the clinician. However, many doctors remain cautious in prescribing these treatments, and guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) demonstrate a need for more evidence to justify routine prescribing of unlicensed cannabis-based products. NICE also made recommendations for further research to inform future decisions on the routine prescribing and funding of unlicensed cannabis-based medicines on the NHS.

Without a doubt, the number of patients with NHS prescriptions for medicinal cannabis products is low. Often families have sought private treatment, which is clearly a serious financial burden.

While the Government cannot stipulate what companies charge for the products, and these companies may face export or import fees for controlled drugs, I am aware of Ministers’ work within these constraints to reduce costs. Many believe medicinal cannabis, where clinically appropriate, is critical for patients and families in need, and I am assured that the Government is considering every possibility to ensure greater access. 

Of course, there is a substantial body of scientific and medical evidence to show that cannabis itself can harm the mental and physical health and damage communities.

Medical Cannabis Research

The Department, via the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), is developing a programme of two randomised controlled trials to test the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis products to treat epilepsy in adults and children. The trials will start as soon as possible, and the results will be published once the trials have completed and the findings peer reviewed.

Furthermore, the Government continues to encourage manufacturers to invest in research and has highlighted that public funding is available for high quality applications. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the NIHR can provide applicants with scientific and research advice.

Medical Cannabis Industry

As of 1 November 2018, doctors on the General Medical Council’s Specialist Register have been able to prescribe cannabis based medicines, where clinically appropriate and in the best interests of patients. I note your point regarding the development of the medical cannabis industry. However, the Government recognises the need to tightly regulate this industry. Currently, in order to manufacture and supply medicinal cannabis, companies need a licence from the Home Office. I understand that the Government granted its second licence to grow high THC medical cannabis in January 2021 to a firm in Jersey.

Further, a report by the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform recommended a significant overhaul of the system, moving regulation from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care. However, I am assured that the industry will continue to be monitored and regulated, whilst the latest National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines demonstrate a clear need for more evidence to support routine prescribing and funding decisions for unlicensed cannabis-based products on the NHS.