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Medicinal cannabis: Doctors and MPs plead for drug to be free on NHS - Express





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Medicinal cannabis: Doctors and MPs plead for drug to be free on NHS - Express

Three professors and a crossbench peer have written to Health Sec­­retary Matt Hancock urging him to relax the restrictions around the prescription of medicinal cannabis. They believe the move would help curb the spiralling number of patients hooked on potentially deadly prescription painkillers such as opioids. They want medicinal cannabis to be available to people with conditions such as epilepsy, chronic pain, anxiety and multiple sclerosis.

Professor David Nutt, a leading drug expert at Imperial College London, Professor Lawrence Phillips, an expert in decision science and drugs at the London School of Economics, and Professor Stephen Bazire, a consultant pharmacist, together with crossbench peer Baroness Molly Meacher, are joint signatories.

A group of more than 100 crossparty MPs, including Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, Dr Phillip Lee, Labour MP for Bracknell, and shadow health secretary Barbara Keeley, added their weight to the campaign, writing to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They want him to “intervene urgently on behalf of vulnerable families... who should not be left to suffer without an NHS prescription [for medicinal cannabis].”

Their letter was supported by campaign group End Our Pain – patients and relatives who believe their conditions could be effectively treated with medicinal cannabis.

The groups argue the current system is not working. Under existing rules introduced last November, ­following a campaign by parents of children with severe epilepsy, ­specialists are allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis.

However, since then there have been no NHS prescriptions for it.

Experts say this is because the specialists face almost insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles, including getting a senior medical countersignature on prescriptions and overcoming complex importation rules.

Prof Nutt said: “This is an outrageous situation. There are lots of doctors who are very interested in prescribing medicinal cannabis but they are scared, as they are not trained or taught how to do so.

“Relaxing the rules is a like a hot potato. No one wants to make a decision in case they get criticised.

“But I believe widespread prescription of medicinal cannabis would reduce the risk of patients becoming addicted to long-term opioids and it is way safer in terms of side effects and dependence.”

Experts also say the problem affecting NHS prescriptions has led to hundreds of people paying up to £1,000 a month for private prescriptions of medical cannabis.

In their letter to Mr Hancock, the senior doctors argue the red tape should be removed and rules further relaxed, so GPs can prescribe medicinal cannabis.

The professors and Baroness Meacher stated: “We agree with the very many patients who see CBPMs [medicinal cannabis] as providing a significant advance in medical treatment for many hundreds of thousands of people for whom current medicines are either ineffective or poorly tolerated.”

They add: “They also offer significant savings to the NHS in terms of reduced hospital stays and reduced prescribing of other medicines, particularly opioids for chronic pain.

“The failure of the medical and pharmacy professions to embrace their being made ‘legal’... is a great worry to patients and carers, and will already have led to more preventable deaths from conditions such as epilepsy.”

The medics are also calling for proper training for GPs and specialists in how to best prescribe it.

Professor Mike Barnes, a consultant neurologist at Newcastle University, added: “GPs should ­prescribe cannabis products because they are used to managing patients’ symptoms.”

The campaign follows a Public Health England review which showed a quarter of adults use strong painkillers, anti-depressants and sleeping tablets, for conditions which some say could be more safely and effectively alleviated by medicinal cannabis.

Around 30 countries have given the green light to medical cannabis, as well as a handful of others that allow the drug to be used under strict guidelines.

These include parts of California, Germany, the Netherlands, Aust­­ralia, Greece, Norway, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Cyprus and Peru.

Prof Nutt is launching an independent trial in November involving 20,000 patients which will study medicinal cannabis. He has also established a UK charity, Drug Science, to research the harms and benefits of illegal drugs.

Some of the conditions experts believe can be treated include ­various forms of pain, epilepsy, ­nausea, anxiety, depression and symptoms associated with MS, insomnia and Tourette’s. Dr Frank D'Ambrosio, a California-based surgeon who has been prescribing medicinal cannabis to more than 4,000 patients, visited the UK to lobby the Government to relax its “fundamentally flawed and restrictive system”.

A spokeswoman for the Gov­­ernment drug watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, said there is a “lack of clinical evidence to support the use of cannabis products”.

However, she added NICE had recommended further research.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We sympathise with those families dealing with challenging conditions. The law has been changed and the Government is urgently working to improve the evidence base to provide clinicians with further support and guidance on prescribing where appropriate.”

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