Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) and pharmaceutical pills.

Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) and pharmaceutical pills.

By Chris Bovey

The UK government’s watchdog has said it will not recommend medical cannabis for chronic pain and epilepsy.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says it is unable to recommend cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) for a number of conditions because it claims “current research is limited and of low quality”, despite being plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Minor changes were made to British law last year following negative media publicity involving children with rare forms of epilepsy who suffered up to 30 life-threatening seizures a day. Parents had taken their kids to countries where the treatment is legal, because it works, but had their medicine confiscated when they bought it into the UK.

The negative media publicity caused the government to allow the drug to be prescribed under special circumstances, but as previously reported by Feed The Birds, hardly anybody can afford it even if they can jump through the hoops of bureaucracy to obtain a prescription.

Too expensive for British patients

The recommendations say that Sativex, the first cannabis-based medicine to be licensed in the UK, should not be offered to patients with spasticity because “it is not a cost-effective treatment at its list price”.

Sativex is a potent cannabis oil extract made by GW Pharmaceuticals that contains 270mg of CBD and 250mg of THC in each 10ml bottle. The high THC cannabis they use for the extraction is Skunk#1, grown by the Tory drug’s Minister’s husband’s company he heads, British Sugar.

The UK is actually the world’s largest exporter of legal medicinal cannabis. Presumably, they keep the price high, as it’s more profitable to sell abroad at a vastly inflated profit rather than sell it to the NHS at a reasonable price, despite the fact it costs peanuts to produce.

A synthetic cannabinoid, nabilone, can be recommended as an add-on treatment for adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting who have not responded to conventional anti-emetics.

Cannabinoids extracted from the actual plant for legal CBMPs are pretty much unavailable to anyone unless they have very deep pockets.

Perception

Initially, the government resisted changing the law when negative stories about seriously sick children were being denied life-changing CBMPs that clearly worked were circulating in the media. Eventually, they relented with some minor changes to the law.

Many people were celebrating that medicinal cannabis was now legal in the UK. It effectively isn’t, but it’s all about perception. The government just wanted it to go away and to create an illusion they had addressed the issue of sick children being denied a life-saving medicine.

Feed The Birds were heavily critical of last year’s minor amendments to the law pointing out that they would benefit almost nobody. Sadly we were right.

Criminality

That does not mean to say there are not hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis consumers in the UK, but they do so illegally. Sick people either have to source it on the black market, which is often controlled by organised criminal gangs or grow their own, both being illegal.

Growing your own is not without risk, patients regularly have their doors kicked down by the police and hauled through the courts. The new far-right British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, recently made it quite clear she doesn’t like cannabis and wanted the police to be “tough on drugs”. The fact that 100 years of prohibition has not worked has escaped her so she wants more of the same. She’s either stupid or cruel or more likely both.

Evidence

Cannabis has been used as a medicine for at least 6,000 years, with the earliest documented usages of it in China. In recent times, there has been a lot of research into the effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine. The Netherlands, Canada and much of the USA have legal medicinal cannabis industries.

These countries are convinced by the evidence, but NICE is in denial.

An individual ridden with cynical tendencies might wonder whether NICE is more interested in protecting the financial interests of pharmaceutical corporates, fully committed into developing less and less effective products.

What do patients think?

Multiple Sclerosis patient Indigo Hawk.

M.S. Patient, Indigo Hawk, from Devon, medicating with herbal cannabis.

I chatted to Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.) patient, Indigo Hawk, what he thought of NICE’s guidelines that cannabis should not be offered to patients with spasticity.

“Well, that’s not very nice, is it? I was diagnosed with M.S. in 2009, but I’d had it since I was 17. My neurologist couldn’t understand how I wasn’t a vegetable looking at the fact my brain had multiple deep legions.

“My neurologist put this down to the fact I’ve always been a stoner and encouraged me to keep using cannabis.

“I still get pain, but when you’ve had it for so long, you get used to it and with cannabis, I am able to lead a functioning and fulfilling life.

“I’ve experimented myself by going a few days without cannabis. I literally had no physical capacity to be able to walk or even stand up. To say there is no evidence cannabis does not help M.S. is absolute nonsense. As soon as I went back to medicating with cannabis, I was back up and standing again after one toke of a spliff my girlfriend kindly made for me as she was very concerned about the condition I was in,” said Indigo.

Disappointed

The MS Society also said it was bitterly disappointing. “NICE’s refusal to recommend cannabis for pain and muscles spasms, or to fund Sativex on the NHS, means thousands of people with MS will continue to be denied an effective treatment,” said Genevieve Edwards, the society’s director of external affairs.


Chris Bovey, writer and musician.

Chris Bovey is a businessman, writer, artist, musician and practical joker. He lives in Devon with his partner, two children and cat. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter @_dr_dremp.

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