UK committee calls for wider access to ‘unlicensed’ medical cannabis

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The United Kingdom’s Home Affairs Committee is recommending the government widen access to unlicensed cannabis-based products for medical use via the National Health Service before the end of the current Parliament.

The National Health Service (NHS) is England’s publicly funded health care system.

The government has two months to respond to the committee’s recommendation.

There are currently no licensed cannabis-based products for medical use (CBPMs) in the U.K.

And, though unlicensed CBPMs may be prescribed, none have received marketing authorization. (Epidyolex – the trade name in Europe for Epidiolex – nabilone and Sativex are considered licensed cannabis-based medicines but not CBPMs.)

“We are concerned that there is currently a lack of access on the (NHS) for patients with a genuine medical need. Access continues to be a problem,” the committee’s report noted.

Earlier this year, the U.K. disclosed that fewer than five patients received unlicensed cannabis-based medicine from England’s publicly funded health care system.

However, 89,239 unlicensed medical cannabis “items” were prescribed to patients through the private sector – meaning patients pay out of pocket – between November 2018 and July 2022.

In 2018, the U.K. rescheduled marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, a move that allowed specialist clinicians to prescribe medical cannabis. The specialists can work in the NHS or privately.

In its report, the Home Affairs Committee said it supports cannabis-based products for medical use “where there is an evidence base that it can be an effective form of treatment for managing conditions or symptoms.”

The committee acknowledged evidence of the potential therapeutic value of medical cannabis in treating chronic pain.

The committee’s report recommended that “the Government supports researchers to conduct (randomized) control trials into the effectiveness of CBPMs to treat chronic pain.”

“If the evidence base supports this, and it is deemed to be cost-effective, we recommend that the Government enables the use of CBPMs for this purpose and works with clinicians to ensure that it is a treatment option in appropriate cases.”

The committee noted its concern about recreational cannabis.

“We are concerned by the harms that cannabis for non-medical use may pose, particularly in relation to young people,” the committee said in the report.

“We do not believe that cannabis should be (legalized) and regulated for non-medical use.”

Separately, in the same report, the committee welcomed the U.K. government’s commitment to reducing barriers to researching psychedelic drugs.

However, the committee recommended the U.K. government “urgently moves psychedelic drugs to Schedule 2 in order to facilitate research on the medical or therapeutic value of these drugs.”

The report is available here.