The United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid is holding to the commitment he made in July to reclassify medical cannabis. Officials are expecting an announcement in a couple of weeks. But reports indicate the Home Secretary has already approved the reclassification that will permit the National Health Service (NHS) to prescribe cannabis treatments. And that means patients with severe illnesses in the United Kingdom will have medical cannabis within a month.
UK Home Secretary Moves To Reclassify THC Oil as Medicine
In July, UK officials made a major drug policy announcement. Shortly after taking office as part of Theresa May’s administration, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced his plan to reclassify certain forms of cannabis as “Schedule 2” substances. Like the U.S. government, the U.K. has long-considered cannabis a “Schedule 1” drug with no medicinal or therapeutic value. But lowering cannabis’ classification would mean that physicians in the U.K., including the NHS, would be able to legally prescribe it.
In this respect, the U.K. has been well behind its Eurozone counterparts. Any kind of use or possession of cannabis is illegal in the U.K, with very few medical exceptions. Certain parties are able to research medical cannabis, but only with a Home Office license. A very limited number of patients have been able access the synthetic THC drug Nabilone. But other than that, the only cannabis-based medicine the U.K. allows is Sativex. At the same time, the U.K. is home to leading medical cannabis firm GW Pharmaceuticals. GW’s epilepsy medication, Epidiolex, recently got FDA approval, making it the first cannabis-based drug to receive federal approval in the United States.
But after favorable and comprehensive review of the medical and therapeutic applications of cannabis by U.K. drug advisers and England’s chief medical officer this summer, Javid announced his intent to list cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug. Now, the policy change is a mere two weeks away. Following that, qualifying patients should be able to obtain prescriptions and purchase medical cannabis within the month. Or, in the words of Javid, “by autumn.”
Millions of People Could Qualify for THC Oil in the U.K.
When Javid announced the planned rescheduling in July, he cited public outcry over cases of young children suffering from intractable epilepsy. The case of Billy Caldwell, whose cannabis oil was seized as he and his mother re-entered the U.K. from Canada, entered the public spotlight in June. Many credit Caldwell’s case and his mother’s persistence with the Home Office for prompting Javid’s policy announcement. The reclassification of cannabis oil will open up access to patients with severe clinical needs, like Billy.
It’s important to note that the reclassification applies to cannabis-derived THC oil exclusively. Doctors cannot prescribe botanical forms of cannabis, which remain illegal. Hemp- and cannabis-derived CBD oils with no THC are already legal and widely available across the U.K. There are, however, hardly any restrictions on who will be eligible to obtain THC oil. Patients with epilepsy, MS, nausea and other symptoms related to cancer and cancer treatments and chronic pain will be eligible. Ultimately, the decision to prescribe will be up to NHS physicians and their patients, at least for the time being.
There are nearly 28 million people suffering from chronic pain in what The Guardian called a “silent epidemic.” Every day, 87 people in the U.K. are diagnosed with epilepsy, a condition affecting about one out of every 100 U.K. residents.