Cannabis-based health products will be available on prescription to patients in England, Wales and Scotland from 1 November, home secretary Sajid Javid has announced. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society said the news would be "welcomed by many patients with a range of serious health conditions" and that pharmacists will help ensure there is "robust governance" around prescribing and dispensing these products.
Mr Javid said in a letter to Parliament that the decision “brings these products explicitly into the existing medicines framework,” adding that the use of recreational cannabis will remain illegal.
He commented: “The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will be conducting a long-term review of cannabis and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has been commissioned to provide advice for clinicians by October next year.
“The Government will monitor the impact of the policy closely as the evidence base develops and review when the ACMD provides its final advice."
The new law will not limit the types of conditions that can be considered for treatment and it means doctors will no longer need to seek approval from an expert panel in order for patients to access the medicines.
Mr Javid said: "The decision to prescribe is only restricted to a doctor on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council where the cannabis-based product is an unlicensed ‘special’ medicinal product for use by a specific patient.
"Once a product is licensed by the MHRA, it will be available for prescription in the same way as any other Schedule 2 drug."
Mr Javid made the announcement after the ACMD recommended that cannabis-derived medicinal products (CDMP) which meet safety and quality standards be moved out of Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations in 2001 and into Schedule.
The ACMD said it agreed that there is evidence that some of these products can have clinical benefits “in certain circumstances” and that they should therefore be available on prescription.
RPS president Ash Soni said Mr Javid's announcement would be "welcomed by many patients with a range of serious health conditions," adding that the "prospect of a future where safe and effective licensed cannabis-based medicines can be prescribed to help relieve suffering is genuinely exciting".
Mr Soni said: “Robust governance needs to be in place around prescribing and dispensing and pharmacists have a key role to play in ensuring this is in place across health systems. As with any changes to pharmacy practice we will support the profession in navigating the new legislation. We will work with the NHS to help and support specialists in and making the right prescribing decisions.”
“Pharmacists will be on the frontline of supplying these cannabis based medicinal products and can give advice to patients on how to take them as part of their treatment plan.
“Moving cannabis-based medicinal products from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 will now make it easier for research into these products to take place."
89 per cent of 1,690 pharmacists who responded to an RPS survey earlier this year said they agreed that cannabis should be resecheduled to allow research to take place.
Mr Javid’s letter to parliament states: “To constitute a ‘cannabis-based product for medicinal use in humans’, a product must satisfy three requirements:
Only products that conform to this definition will be rescheduled to Section 2, Mr Javid said.
An interim definition of CDMP previously put forward by the Government, which is broadly similar to the definition put forward in Mr Javid’s letter, has been described by the ACMD as “too broad” and not detailed enough on safety and quality assurance.
When asked to comment for PM readers, an ACMD spokesperson said: "We will be meeting in due course to discuss the Home Office’s implementation of the ACMD’s advice and to discuss the parameters of the ACMD’s long term review."