RCN welcomes decision to allow medicinal cannabis prescribing

Guidance on prescribing, and which conditions it can be used to treat, will follow

The RCN has welcomed confirmation that medicinal cannabis will be available on the NHS to patients in the UK with exceptional clinical needs.

Picture: Alamy

The decision by home secretary Sajid Javid follows a series of high-profile cases involving children with epilepsy, whose condition appeared to be helped by cannabis oil.

Nurses at RCN congress in May were among those who called for the decriminalisation of cannabis for medicinal use.

After considering expert advice from a specially commissioned review, Mr Javid announced on Thursday the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products, relaxing the rules about the circumstances in which they can be given to patients.

Such products will become schedule 2 controlled drugs, with guidance expected soon on the conditions to be covered.

Available on prescription

Referring to the cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, who have epilepsy, Mr Javid said: 'Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory.

'Following advice from two sets of independent advisers, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products – meaning they will be available on prescription.

'This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need, but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.'

Commenting on the announcement, RCN director of nursing, policy and practice Dame Donna Kinnair said: 'This is a very welcome move by the home secretary. RCN members voted overwhelmingly at congress in May to lobby the governments across the UK to decriminalise cannabis for medicinal use, because nurses were worried that vulnerable patients are currently being forced to self-medicate or medicate their children from sources that aren’t necessarily safe. 

'We look forward to working with the Department of Health and Social Care on defining which conditions the medicinal form of the drug can be used to treat, and on guidance for prescribing treatment.'

An initial review by chief medical officer for England Dame Sally Davies concluded that there is evidence medicinal cannabis has therapeutic benefits.

A second review by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs last week concluded that doctors should be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis provided products meet safety standards, and recommended they be placed in schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.

Definition of cannabis-derived medicinal product

At present cannabis is a schedule 1 drug, meaning it is thought to have no therapeutic value but can be used for the purposes of research with a Home Office licence.

The Home Office said the DH and the Medicines and Health products Regulatory Agency will develop a definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product. Only products meeting this definition will be rescheduled and other forms of cannabis will still be covered by the existing law.

Legal prescribing of rescheduled products will begin by the autumn.

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