The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) (Cannabis and License Fees) (England, Wales and Scotland) Regulations 2018.

By Jo Martin

I read with increased incredulity the new government guidelines for medical cannabis in the UK which will commence 1st November 2018. I thought to myself, yay for regulation which currently appears to put further obstacles in the way of safe access to cannabis medicines in the UK for some and may make it easier for others, yet to be seen, given the many anomalies and ambiguities of these new regulations and how specialists will respond.

To clarify what I mean. Until November 1st I can get an unlicensed cannabis-derived product prescribed by my GP as a private patient. Now this option will no longer be available to me, I have been told that I will have to go back to square one with a specialist/consultant to prove that nothing else works before I can get another prescription for a cannabis product and that there is still no guarantee that the NHS will fund this for me. I have avoided consultants for years as far as possible as for me repeated hospital appointments put my head into poorly person mode, which I have spent years escaping from.

Do not misinterpret my sentiment, I am eternally pleased for the children and others who will potentially benefit from the new regulations for cannabis-derived medication, although I feel for everyone in my position that has to go through this. Please note that already some applications to the interim specialist panel for children’s prescriptions have been denied, the ones which were not so hyped by the media it would seem.

Photo of a box and bottle of cannabis medicine Epidoxel.

Epidoxel, cannabis derived medicine in a bottle.

The specialist panel will cease to exist from 1st November when the new regulations come in to force.

What has changed?

I hear you ask: “In which case what has changed so far or is likely to change soon?”

The government is now finally admitting that some cannabis-derived products have medical benefits, but maintains the lie that raw cannabis is still harmful.

There will be access to a wider range of products than previously, for any condition the prescriber feels could benefit after all other avenues of treatment have been exhausted, but these products will still be unlicensed, for now, as waiting for licences would massively delay availability. I am currently investigating the likely costs of these soon to be available products in terms of whether the NHS would be more, or less likely to meet the funding costs than previously available products.

From November 1st 2019 specialists can now prescribe these off license cannabis-derived products, before it was also possible to get an off-license prescription through your GP practice.

We are told that the new regulations are designed to be ever-changing and progressing so that no patient is left behind, but it appears as if many patients will be for quite some time. These new regulations really do not go far enough, and its way too soon to be declaring personal victories and real progress, when for some patients it is, in fact, a step backwards.

Many people believed that medical cannabis was not already available or legal in the UK, when it was, just, licensed product by product, and could be prescribed off license for anything the prescriber saw fit, sometimes this was funded by the NHS but increasingly not the case for most, unless you happen to live in Wales. But guess what? According to the latest government press release, eeek the cannabis-derived products soon to be available will still be unlicensed for the time being, so doctors will still be prescribing at their own risk. I am really hoping that they will be happier to do so within the new framework.

The campaign narrative should have been “we need easier access to affordable medical cannabis products”, but guessing not quite the same ring, and then there would be no real victory to claim either for the parties involved.

Image of herbal cannabis and prescription pills.

Herbal cannabis versus prescription pills.

Why would you put chronically/terminally ill people through all this in the first place? The biggest harms from cannabis are caused through prohibition, black market, miseducation and lack of sensible harm reduction information.

The differences between cannabis, cannabis-derived products and synthetic cannabinoids

  • Raw/Street Cannabis – cannabis which has been grown by a hobbyist, or commercial grower without licences.
  • Medical Cannabis – cannabis which has been grown in a standardised way to yield a similar cannabinoid profile each time, which is quantifiable, quality controlled but essentially the same as any other cannabis in term of potency and so on (strain dependent), grown under licence by large enterprise
  • Cannabis Derived Products – from the raw cannabis plant, extracted using a solvent/gas/ other methods then suspended in a carrier or encapsulated to assist delivery, produced under license.
  • Synthetic Single Cannabinoids – man-made synthetic cannabinoids such as Marinol (dronabinol) or the products used to make Spice.

Sativex was scheduled in 2013 for medical use in the UK. It is a full extract from two different strains of Cannabis blended to make a 1 to 1 sublingual spray, costing the NHS a minimum of £375 for 270 metred sprays.

These are the new regulations which come in to force from the beginning of November this year. Local press in Bristol has reported on the limitations of the new medical cannabis regulations. There is still a long way to go until all patients and recreational consumers will be able to get legal access to cannabis in the UK.


Photo of Jo Martin

Jo has been a recreational cannabis consumer since the age of 15. Crippled in 2008 with a life-shortening illness Jo turned to medical cannabis, which saved her life, and has actively been campaigning for change since 2010. Currently working with Bristol Cannabis and Compassion Clubs.

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