On November 1, 2018, the UK changed the law on medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis products were moved in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 from schedule 1, meaning they have no medicinal value, to schedule 2, which allowed doctors to prescribe them under certain circumstances.
Since rescheduling, many NHS patients have been frustrated by what they see as a slow and bureaucratic system that has denied them access to cannabis treatments. Formal figures are not available but the number of NHS prescriptions since rescheduling is low – perhaps less than 100.
Several NHS Trusts have also refused to pay for cannabis treatments, even if prescribed by a consultant, as they are not convinced they provide good value for money for the NHS.
Patients can still get private medicinal cannabis prescriptions from a consultant, as they can with any other medicine, but this creates unequal access based on the ability to pay.
Cannabis medicine is a new area of therapeutic practice, so regulatory systems need to be carefully developed and fine-tuned, new cannabis medicines have to be licensed, healthcare providers need to be trained and prescribing guidelines need to be formalised.