The UK government has eased import restrictions on medicinal cannabis, and has promised to do more to improve access for patients campaigning for access to the drug.
Licensed wholesalers will be able to import larger quantities of cannabis-based products, and hold supplies for future use by patients with prescriptions. Previously, imported medical cannabis could only measure the amount required for individual prescriptions, rather than reserve bulk stock.
Health minister Matt Hancock said he acted after meeting several families campaigning for change, and that he would continue to liaise with officials to determine if other barriers could be removed.
The new measures were implemented by the Home Office and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) from 2 March.
Although the UK is the largest legal grower of medicinal cannabis in the world, according to UN statistics, it imports the majority of cannabis-based medicines from foreign countries.
Restrictions mean it can take weeks or months for the drugs to reach the patients in the UK. In Canada, an export certificate can take four to eight weeks.
Delays can also occur due to safeguards in place to guard against addiction and the misuse of drugs. This means that patients with prescriptions for unlicensed medicines, such as medicinal cannabis, must have their prescription reviewed every 30 days by specialist doctors.
The move follows the law change in October 2018 to allow specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use where clinically appropriate in the UK, which has been condemned within the UK’s cannabis sector.
By the following October, less than five patients had successfully obtained legal medicinal cannabis through healthcare providers.
The government said it is working with industry to explore further ways to reduce costs and encourage more research into uninterrupted access to cannabis-based medicinal products where clinically appropriate.
It will continue to engage with medical associations and patients to build evidence, using trials in the UK to accelerate our understanding of how medicinal cannabis can benefit patients. “This is necessary for wider prescribing by NHS clinicians in future,” the health ministry said in a statement.
In November last year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended two cannabis-based medicinal products for patients with multiple sclerosis and hard-to-treat epilepsies.
The Department of Health and Social Care continues to work closely with NHS England-NHS Improvement (NHSE-I) and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to establish clinical trials to develop the evidence-base to support further commissioning decisions.