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On the 26th of July, 2018, it was announced that specialist doctors in the UK will be able to legally prescribe cannabis-derived medicinal products by the autumn of this year.
That it only took nine months for this law to be “born” is no coincidence, not when you’ve got mothers like Charlotte Caldwell involved. Charlotte’s young son Billy suffers from severe epilepsy and thanks to her and the hard work and tenacity of many other moms, parents will no longer be in a position where they’re punished for treating their child. Earlier this year, Charlotte was stopped at customs on her return from Canada due to her bringing cannabis oil into the UK. As a result, Billy’s health deteriorated and within days he was taken to a hospital suffering life-threatening seizures. This prompted the Home Office to grant him an exceptional license to use the cannabis oil medicine which resulted in a vast reduction in the number.
In response, Charlotte received an unprecedented amount of support, especially in the media, even from outlets who historically were anti-legalization.
While this is a groundbreaking decision, sorry smokers – you can’t celebrate just yet.
For a start, this decision doesn’t mean I can just pop down to my local GP (general practitioner) and ask for weed on prescription for my chronic pain. It’s unclear just yet who will benefit the most from this change. Clark French, the founder and director of United Patients Alliance, which campaigns for medical use of cannabis, said it would most likely go to patients with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cancer: “They are the three big ones they are most likely to give it to because there’s a lot of research on them and a lot of media attention on those patients at the moment.”
Others will need to prove “exceptional clinical need” in order to receive medical cannabis products, the key word here being products. This refers to oils, pills and sprays, and not the plant, which will still remain illegal. The UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid was quoted as saying “This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need but is in no way a first step to the legalization of cannabis for recreational use.”
Cannabis is currently classed as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it is judged to have “no therapeutic value,” although it can be used for the purposes of research with a Home Office license. Since the passing of the law, certain cannabis-derived products will now be known as Schedule 2 drugs – those that have a potential medical use – which places them in the same category as cocaine and heroin.
It’s worth noting that according to The Independent, “Police forces have, however, declared they would be in favour of such a move with many turning a blind eye to minor offences provoking suggestions cannabis is being decriminalized by stealth.” This echoes the sentiment I’ve heard from police officers, along with other anecdotal evidence.
It’s surely only a matter of time before the benefits of cannabis are taken more seriously thanks to this landmark decision, but who knows how long it will be until that happens. Dr. Tom Freeman, a senior academic at King’s College London’s Addictions Department, said the decision would have a “substantial impact on research by facilitating the development of safer and more effective medicines.”
Professor Mike Barnes, an expert in medicinal cannabis, recently wrote an article for the British Medical Journal, explaining how it could be useful for the treatment of chronic pain, spasticity, nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy and drug-resistant epilepsy, alongside other conditions.
Professor Barnes is also the clinician who secured Alfie Dingley’s emergency license in July. Alfie is six years old and suffers 150 seizures a month. Children like him respond to full extract cannabis oils containing CBD and THC. His mother, Hannah Deacon, is one of the many who also campaigned for the legalization and is delighted with the outcome.
I cannot imagine the pain these women went through and how hard they’ve had to fight but hopefully many will benefit from their action. As far for the rest of us? It’s progress and here’s hoping I can write another update soon!
Stay tuned for more updates from the global cannabis community and news about the Hemp Revolution in our upcoming print issue ONE!