From 1 November, specialist clinicians will be able to legally prescribe cannabis-derived medicinal products to patients with exceptional clinical need.
Cannabis is a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Controlled drugs are assigned a Class and a Schedule. The Class (A, B and C) broadly reflects potential for harm, and has legal implications, including penalties for inappropriate supply and possession. Cannabis and many cannabis-based products are assigned to Class B under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Recognising that potentially harmful drugs do have medical benefit in specific cases, they are also assigned to a Schedule (1-5) which spells out how they can be prescribed and stored.
Until recently, cannabis has been assigned to Schedule 1, the most restrictive category, for drugs which are considered to have no recognised medicinal benefit. They cannot be prescribed or held legally with a prescription.
Following a review of the scheduling of cannabis, the Home Secretary has announced that medicinal cannabis will be re-assigned to Schedule 2.
From 1 November 2018, specialist clinicians will be able to legally prescribe cannabis-derived medicinal products to patients with an exceptional clinical need.
What will this mean for people with MS?
In the short term, the reality is that these changes are unlikely to make it easier for people with MS to access medicinal cannabis. In the longer term, it does represent an opening-up of official attitudes to cannabis as a medicine.
Sativex is already assigned to the less-restrictive Schedule 4. This means that Sativex can be prescribed in the UK without restrictions on supply, recording, storage or destruction. But cost-effectiveness considerations mean that it is not offered as an NHS treatment in most of the UK. Changes to the legal status of medicinal cannabis are unlikely to affect this.
The MS Trust will continue to push for changes in regulation that enable people with MS to access the treatments they need. The first part of that is to ensure that the NICE Guideline for the management of MS includes equity of access to existing, proven treatments such as Sativex. In the longer term, opening the door that enables appropriate prescription of cannabis grown to good manufacturing practice standards can only be a good thing.
From 1 November, medicinal cannabis can be prescribed by specialist doctors. We look at what is meant by medicinal cannabis, how legislation is changing and what this means for people with MS.
Cannabis is a naturally occurring drug made from parts of the cannabis plant.
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