Almost two years ago, the United Kingdom lifted strict cannabis scheduling after two children in the commonwealth found refuge from debilitating seizures with cannabis-based medicines. Since medical legalization, however, there have been no new government-funded National Health Services (NHS) medical cannabis prescriptions, The Guardian reports.
Currently, cannabis is classified as a Schedule 2 drug in the United Kingdom; medical use is permitted for “exceptional clinical need.” Also, the medicine must be prescribed by a specialist consultant and not a general practitioner. Furthermore, NHS guidance does not allow cannabis prescriptions without clear published evidence of its benefit and proof that other treatments have been exhausted. That first requirement is an issue worldwide — without legal access to premium cannabis, research on the medicinal benefits of cannabis consumption or inhalation remains sparse.
The exceptionally bureaucratic hierarchy of the NHS trust is a major issue behind the lack of NHS prescriptions, according to cannabis medicine expert Dr. Dani Gordon.
Instead of relying on government-funded care, patients are paying up to £1400-4000 per month for prescriptions from private doctors. One mother sold her house to fund her severely epileptic daughter’s prescription cannabis, medicine which has helped the young woman walk again after years of sedated confinement to a wheelchair. This is creating a two-tier medical system in which care is only provided to those with economic freedoms.
However not all patients have the means to afford the prescriptions and this is just one of three very real barriers between qualifying patients and legal cannabis medicine, according to NHS England study ‘Barriers to accessing cannabis-based products for medicinal use on NHS prescription’ published in August 2019. The study reveals that on top of the cost of goods and supply chain problems, patients are set back due to a lack of guidance to support clinicians and a lack of clinical evidence.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said nine months ago that officials are “urgently working with the health system, industry and researchers to improve the evidence base to provide clinicians with further support and guidance on prescribing where clinically appropriate.”