Two Cannabis-Based Medicines Have Been Approved For Use By The NHS
Two cannabis-based medicines used to treat epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS) have been approved for use by the NHS.
Guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended the medicines after examining cannabis-based products for several conditions.
Both substances were developed in the UK – where they are also grown – following the law being changed in November 2018 to allow specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis medicines.
Epidyolex has been approved for two rare types of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, while the spray Sativex has been recommended to treat muscle spasms for those with MS.
Between 8,000 and 9,000 people in the UK have Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, with clinical trials showing Epidyolex – an oral solution containing cannabidiol (CBD) – could reduce the number of seizures by up to 40% in some children, as per the BBC.
The medicine was approved for use in Europe in September, but NICE initially said it was not value for money as it cost between £5,000 and £10,000 per patient each year. However, its manufacturer, GW Pharmaceuticals, has reportedly agreed a discounted price with the NHS.
The drug does not contain the main psychoactive component of cannabis, THC, although the other substance, Sativex, contains a mixture of THC and CBD.
Sativex is a mouth spray that has been approved for treating muscle stiffness and spasms, known as spasticity, in patients with multiple sclerosis. However, doctors will not be allowed to prescribe it to treat pain, a common symptom of MS.
The spray costs around £2,000 a year per patient, with regulators in England initially saying the medicine was not cost-effective (despite it being available on the NHS in Wales since 2014). That decision has now been reversed, and Sativex should also be available in Northern Ireland.
Although charities have welcomed the move, some campaigners say it isn’t enough as thousands of other people who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines have been left in limbo.
Millie Hinton, from the campaign End Our Pain, described the guidelines as a ‘massive missed opportunity’ for thousands of people with conditions that aren’t MS or the rare Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.
She told The Guardian:
It is particularly devastating that there is no positive recommendation that the NHS should allow prescribing of whole-plant medical cannabis containing both CBD (cannabidiol) and THC in appropriate cases of intractable childhood epilepsy.
It is this kind of whole plant extract that has been shown to be life-transforming for a significant number of children, including these involved in the high-profile cases of last year which led to medical cannabis being legalised.
A change in the law in November 2018 made it legal for doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis, but this has only happened in a select few cases. In fact, many doctors have been reluctant to do so because of a lack of clear guidance.
Hopefully these new treatments are a sign things are moving in the right direction, as it’s clear more needs to be done to improve the availability of life-changing drugs for those in need.
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