2018 is turning out to be a key year for cannabis legislation in the UK. Since the Daily Mail reported in March that Joy Smith claimed that she cured herself from inoperable bowel and stomach cancer, we’ve seen similar stories published in the press ever since.
In May we read about Billy Caldwell and his mother Charlotte who were forced to fly to Canada to obtain medicinal cannabis for epilepsy. The whole case is thought to have triggered the government to set up a panel to assess medical cannabis requests.
Whilst this is good news for millions of people, it’s still taking time for the panel to make their recommendations and more importantly to get medicinal cannabis to those who need it most.
Cannabis Regulation in the UK
Legislation changes rarely happen overnight, especially when it concerns a controlled substance. The good news however is that things are moving faster than we’ve seen in many years. Over the past couple of months the pace at which the regulatory system has progressed has been impressive to say the least. At the time of writing this article we’ve seen a flurry of activity over the past few weeks especially.
An expert panel has been set up to asses medicinal cannabis, in addition, the department for health and social care published an review conducted by Professor Dame Sally Davies that explores the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of cannabis based products.
The review identified that conclusive evidence existed that shows that various cannabis derived products are of benefit to those with several conditions.
Below is an extract of the review:
Conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective:
a) for the treatment of chronic pain in adults (cannabis);
b) as treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (oral cannabinoids)
c) for improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral
6.2 There is moderate evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for:
a) Improving short-term sleep outcomes in individuals with sleep disturbance
associated with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain,
and multiple sclerosis (cannabinoids, primarily nabiximols)
6.3 There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for:
a) Increasing appetite and decreasing weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS
(cannabis and oral cannabinoids)
b) Improving clinician-measured multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms (oral
c) Improving symptoms of Tourette syndrome (THC capsules)
d) Improving anxiety symptoms, as assessed by a public speaking test, in individuals
with social anxiety disorders (cannabidiol‡)
e) Improving symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (nabilone; a single, small
6.4 There is limited evidence of a statistical association between cannabinoids and:
a) Better outcomes (i.e., mortality, disability) after a traumatic brain injury or
6.5 NASEM found no or insufficient evidence to support or refute the conclusion that
cannabis or cannabinoids are an effective treatment for:
a) Cancers, including glioma (cannabinoids)
b) Cancer-associated anorexia cachexia syndrome and anorexia nervosa
c) Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (dronabinol)
d) Epilepsy (cannabinoids)
e) Spasticity in patients with paralysis due to spinal cord injury (cannabinoids)
f) Symptoms associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (cannabinoids)
g) Chorea and certain neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with Huntington’s
disease (oral cannabinoids)
h) Motor system symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease or the levodopainduced
i) Dystonia (range of movement disorders that cause muscle spasms and
contractions) (nabilone and dronabinol)j) Achieving abstinence in the use of addictive substances (cannabinoids)
k) Mental health outcomes in individuals with schizophrenia or schizophreniform
‡ Cannabidiol is not a controlled substance and is therefore not included in Schedule 1.
The review goes on to recommend that because of the evidence, cannabis be reclassified, Here is the quote:
There is now however, conclusive evidence of the therapeutic benefit of cannabis based medicinal products for certain medical conditions and reasonable evidence of therapeutic benefit in several other medical conditions.
This evidence has been reviewed in whole or part, and considered robust, by some of the leading international scientific and regulatory bodies, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO). As Schedule 1 drugs by definition have little or no therapeutic potential, it is therefore now clear that from a scientific point of view keeping cannabis based medicinal products in Schedule 1 is very difficult to defend.
Moreover, I believe that it would not make sense to move cannabis and its
derivatives out of Schedule 1 whilst leaving synthetic cannabinoids, which the
evidence suggests have potentially greater therapeutic benefit and less potential for harm, in Schedule 1. I therefore recommend that the whole class of cannabis based medicinal products be moved out of Schedule 1.
This review in itself, is a clear indication of just how quickly things are changing. This in part is due to social pressure.
Frustration from the general public and from industry has been fuelled by the apparent lack of communication or cooperation from the regulatory bodies. Some in the industry even considered that some government departments could have been accused of malfeasance simply because questions went unanswered for months, requests for clarification went ignored and obstacles came from left field as different government offices contradicted each other.
In October 2016, the MHRA issued a statement to the effect that they’d come to the opinion that CBD did indeed have medicinal benefits and as such could no longer be classified as a food supplement. In order to continue to sell CBD products, businesses were told that they’d have to apply for a product licence. Since then, trade associations and businesses involved in CBD production, import and retail have had little to no guidance or clarification. Not only has this affected many businesses but more importantly it has seen people who depend on CBD struggling to find supplies.
To make matters worse, CBD from overseas sellers has still been available despite the MHRA statement, no regulation seems to have been in place and so the quality of the products that were openly marketed in the UK has been unknown.
Where Can I Buy Medicinal Cannabis In The UK?
The simple answer at the moment (July 2018) is that you can’t. The supply of medicinal cannabis is imminent although the availability and the actual composition of the products is as yet unknown.
It seems that various tinctures, oils and compounds will be available, some will be prescription only due to THC levels whilst others will continue to be available online such as these Hemp based CBD Oils that are currently available on Amazon.
If you want to be considered for medicinal cannabis then perhaps the best way forward is to speak to your GP. It’s expected that things will continue to move at a fast pace and that once cannabis is rescheduled then we’ll see medicinal cannabis prescriptions being issued nationwide.
This massive change in legislation is unlikely to affect recreational cannabis. Instead, isolates will be researched and should lead to some exciting clinical research and trials that will substantiate the claims of many who have self medicated using cannabis extracts. Exciting times!