The tides are changing in the United Kingdom, where it is now legal to prescribe cannabis-based medications and products to patients who need them.
The new legislation came into effect on November 1st and gives specialist doctors (not general practitioners) the right to prescribe medications containing both CBD and low levels of THC, the latter of which makes you high.
For example, patients may now receive prescriptions for CBD oil or cannabis oil, which are sometimes considered to be the same thing. Cannabis oil, however, often contains THC, while CBD oil does not. The prescriptions will come from the National Health Service (NHS), meaning people won’t have to pay for their cannabis-based medications.
There is so much evidence showing how cannabis can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions. From multiple sclerosis and cancer to arthritis, chronic pain, and even insomnia, cannabis can be an effective form of therapy.
CBD has been especially helpful to many epileptic children, which is what inspired the recent change in the UK. 12-year-old Billy Caldwell made headlines last June when his CBD oil was confiscated at Heathrow International Airport as he returned from Canada with his mother. Caldwell has severe epilepsy and has been using CBD oil to control his seizures since 2016.
At the time his medication was confiscated, medicinal cannabis wasn’t legal in the UK. Caldwell’s mother sparked a nationwide conversation, drawing attention to the fact she had to travel halfway around the world to get the medication she needed to help her son.
7-year-old Alfie Dingley’s parents decided to move their family to the Netherlands in order to have access to a cannabis oil trial. When the treatment worked for his rare form of epilepsy, they petitioned the government to allow him to use the same medication at home in the UK.
Dingley now has access to the cannabis oil and as a result, his family says he’s doing things any other little boy can do.
Unfortunately, a recent report by The Independent suggests many experts think only a handful of patients who stand to benefit from using medicinal cannabis will actually get to use it. While the two aforementioned boys now have access to medicinal cannabis products, many other patients in similar situations are being refused prescriptions by their specialists.
The report says many doctors won’t go the route of cannabis-based treatments because they’re worried about the possible legal backlash should the treatment fail or deliver unexpected results. Medicinal cannabis has yet to be tested as rigorously as conventional medications.
And in some cases where specialists have prescribed medicinal cannabis products, the temporary approval panel has gone on to reject the request.
One expert says that while on paper medicinal cannabis is now legal in the UK, it’s not being taken advantage of to its full extent, with only a handful of neurologists actually using it as a form of treatment. Even then, the hoops they have to jump through to give their patients access to it are extreme.
There are many kinks that need to be worked out. Over time, medicinal cannabis will likely become more mainstream.
And in case you’re wondering, the UK is not going to be taking a page from Canada by legalizing recreational cannabis anytime soon. Government officials say medicinal cannabis is one thing; the door to the recreational world remains firmly shut.