Medicinal Cannabis: Update March 2020

Thank you for contacting me about medicinal cannabis.

There is strong scientific evidence that cannabis can harm people’s mental and physical health and damage communities. However, recent cases have shown the need to look more closely at the use of cannabis-based medicine in treating patients with very specific conditions in exceptional circumstances. This is why the Government decided it was appropriate to review the scheduling of cannabis.

The decision to reschedule these products means that senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an exceptional clinical need. Following short term advice issued in September 2018 the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs are to review the current rescheduling and its appropriateness by November 2020 and provide further initial advice on synthetic cannabinoids by summer 2020.

On epilepsy specifically, I am encouraged that with proper treatment, most people with epilepsy can be helped to have fewer seizures, and in some cases no seizures at all. Anti-epileptic drugs are the most commonly used treatment for epilepsy, which can help to control seizures in about 70 per cent of people. The two-stage review into the use of cannabis for medical purposes which has also been announced, should tell us more about the ways in which medicinal cannabis could help further to alleviate symptoms of those living with epilepsy.

Moreover, NHS England has published a review assessing the barriers to prescribing cannabis-based medicinal products where it is safe and clinically appropriate to do so.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has also developed updated clinical guidance on prescribing cannabis-based products for medicinal use, including for the management of chronic pain.

It is crucial that this country keeps in step with the latest scientific evidence, so that patients and their families have access to the most appropriate course of medical treatment.

My Ministerial colleagues have also been clear that given the nature of the medicine, it should only be prescribed be specialist doctors and on a case-by-case basis. These controls are necessary to develop clinical expertise and an evidence base for this treatment’s effectiveness.

Notwithstanding the above, however, I absolutely understand the concerns and anguish of patients and their families like Alfie Dingley who suffer on a daily basis. I welcome the progress that has been made and look forward to further and perhaps more rapid progress in this area so that patients like Alfie receive the best, most appropriate treatment and medication, supported by robust evidence.

The policy objective is that the decision whether to prescribe an individual with medicinal cannabis is not a political or financial decision, but a decision by a medical expert, who will have considered whether it is the most effective treatment based on an individual’s particular condition.

All of that said, I will continue to monitor this issue closely and I take the point that the journey seems to be a long one. The approach adopted would certainly appear to be very cautious; how far that is made necessary by the state of medical and scientific knowledge is difficult for me to judge; the findings of the reviews under way and other research will be important in making a judgement. It does appear that there remains some uncertainty among at least some experts concerning the evidence as to the long term effects of cannabis-based medicines, especially on children and young people.

I have asked the Department of Health for further clarification.

Any constituent who would like to discuss this issue further, especially if they are personally affected by it would be very welcome to contact my office again or to arrange to see me at a 'Meet Your MP' event, details here

Thank you again for contacting me.

Craig Whittaker MP

March 2020