Beginning November 1st, the United Kingdom will be joining Canada, various smaller countries and over half of the United States in allowing access to medical marijuana for the patients who need it most.
The new policy was announced on Thursday by Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who had called for a review of the nation’s cannabis-based medical products over the summer. The decision to allow medical marijuana for extreme conditions – such as epilepsy and cancer – comes after being “moved by heartbreaking cases involving sick children.” Those children included 6-year-old Alfie Dingley, who suffered from upwards of 150 seizures a month.
“When you’re talking about cannabis as a medicine, you really do have to compare the risks associated with cannabis that we’re aware of versus the risks of those drugs that patients are already taking,” said Jon Liebling, Political Director of the United Patient Alliance.
These new guidelines will affect England, Wales and Scotland; Northern Ireland is considering similar legislative changes but has yet to put them into effect. While this is by no means an easy way for consumers to get their hands on cannabis, it is providing patients who need it most with the option to use cannabis-based products to fight otherwise untreatable conditions.
For the time being, policy suggests that physicians who prescribe medical cannabis only authorize use for patients “with an exceptional clinical need” that is otherwise unmet by current treatment options. General practitioners will not be able to prescribe medical marijuana, and for now it will be left to specialists to make the decision on a case-by-case basis.
While this law appears to leave the option open for physicians to prescribe medical cannabis for conditions outside those specifically mentioned, chances are doctors will wait for approval before prescribing any cannabis-derived products for conditions and illnesses not listed. As it stands now, a specialist can recommend cannabis therapy for epilepsy, chronic pain and nausea caused by chemotherapy.
“We have now delivered on our promise and specialist doctors will have the option to prescribe these products where there is a real need,” the home secretary said on Thursday.
In a few short weeks, the United Kingdom is going to be one more major nation that has legalized medical cannabis – even if it is only supposed to be for a select few cases where it is deemed necessary. Even this is a step forward from the prohibition that still stands around the world and in the U.S. – and continued review of cannabis’ efficacy in treating various conditions should eventually help to expand the list of those who qualify to use the medicine.