I have been contacted by a number of constituents as part of a campaign on medicinal cannabis by End Our Pain.
You may be aware that for some time I have campaigned in support of the legalisation of the medicinal use of cannabis, including for those in severe pain as a form of pain relief.
There is a considerable body of evidence that demonstrates that, for some people, cannabis can provide genuine medical benefits and treat a number of conditions. There is also a growing body of research that shows the medical properties of the individual chemical components of cannabis. The cannabis-based drug Sativex, for example, which can be used to help relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, can be prescribed by GPs at present, although it is highly expensive.
Internationally, a dramatic shift is taking place. A growing number of US states and European countries have recently changed their law to permit the medicinal use of cannabis, including Washington DC, Germany, Italy and Greece. I think it is important that we look again at this issue, as part of a wider review of existing drug laws. Our drug laws should be based on what works, backed up by rigorous scientific evidence, not what sounds tough.
When I attended the 'Medical Cannabis Under Prescription' debate in Parliament on 20th May, I made the point that whilst there is a degree of resistance within the NHS and among clinicians, the problem is also about the Government’s regulatory framework, which is restricting access to this medication. Many people in acute pain are resorting to opioids, which are highly addictive and potentially fatal, while being unable legally to access cannabis, which can often ease their pain.
Although there has been some change in the UK, there is still a long way to go in overcoming the obstacles many face. For example, in receiving a prescription, the current clinical guidelines put pressure on doctors to prescribe only in situations when all other routes have been exhausted, and only specialist doctors can prescribe. Similarly, medicinal cannabis products are treated as unlicensed and therefore are ‘specials’. As such, doctors can be held legally responsible for adverse effects of the medicine. This acts as a disincentive. Local CCGs/NHS Trusts can also often be reluctant to issue specials (or have no budget at all for specials) and so may refuse a doctor’s request for a prescription. Often this will be on cost grounds. Domestic supply is also very limited: there is only one UK pharmaceutical company involved in production of cannabis (GW Pharmacy).
We need a streamlined process to secure medicinal approval but we need to also follow Canada's lead in ending prohibition so that citizens can make their own decisions and can purchase from regulated outlets.
I will continue campaigning in support of substantive reform and calling on the Government to act to ensure that medical cannabis is available to appropriate patients and in particular to children suffering severe intractable epilepsy, such as Alfie Dingley whose plight and campaign did so much to secure the change in the law.