Medical marijuana in the UK – is it legal, what conditions can it help treat and how much does Sativex cost?

It remains largely illegal in the UK, although some forms do exist and can be prescribed by doctors or bought over the counter. Here's what you need to know.

Is medical marijuana legal in the UK and what can it treat?

Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most consumed illegal drug in the UK.

It is commonly ingested by smoking but for medical purposes it can also be taken in oil or pill form.

Low concentration versions of cannabis oil are widely available in British pharmacies.

Makers say it can be used to help promote sleep, boost appetite and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

Higher concentration forms of cannabis oil have been hailed for treating the symptoms of epilepsy, HIV and cancer.

But cannabis oil with more than 0.05 per cent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – the psychoactive element – is banned in the UK despite high-profile cases like Billy Caldwell.

The 12-year-old was given a 20-day exemption to take higher strength cannabis oil to treat his severe epilepsy.

In July 2018 the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said the rules should be changed so doctors have the option of prescribing cannabis-derived products for certain ailments.

It also recommended clinical trials to assess the safety and effectiveness of such products.

Is medicinal cannabis available on prescription yet?

It will be soon, yes.

Medicinal marijuana will become available on prescription within the coming weeks after Home Office Secretary Sajid Javid agreed to relax drug laws.

Medicinal cannabis will be available on prescription from next month, the Home Secretary announced today.

Doctors will be able to prescribe cannabis products to patients from November 1.

The new rules apply to England, Wales and Scotland, Sajid Javid said in a written statement.

It follows several high-profile cases, including young epilepsy sufferers Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, whose conditions appeared to be helped by cannabis oil.

In order for a cannabis product to be considered medicinal it must meet three requirements: it "needs to be a preparation or product which contains cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol or a cannabinol derivative; it is produced for medicinal use in humans and; is a medicinal product, or a substance or preparation for use as an ingredient of, or in the production of an ingredient of, a medicinal product", according to Mr Javid's statement.

What is Sativex and how much does it cost?

Sativex is one of a very few drugs containing cannabis-derived THC and CBD (Cannabidiol) – another less potent ingredient – that can be prescribed on the NHS.

It is used to relieve the pain of muscle spasms for sufferers of multiple sclerosis.

Use of Sativex is currently limited to those people who respond to the first four weeks of treatment.

However NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, does not recommend its prescription.

In a 2014 clinical guideline update, NICE said: "The guidance does not recommend the use of the cannabinoid drug Sativex or fampridine as they provide only a modest benefit at a significant cost to the NHS.

"Sativex costs £50,000 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY), while fampridine costs in the region of £160,000 per QALY.

"Both are well above NICE’s threshold of £30,000 per QALY."



 

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