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Medical Cannabis Not Recommended for Chronic Pain in UK - Pain News Network


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Medical Cannabis Not Recommended for Chronic Pain in UK - Pain News Network

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

It was a little over a year ago that the UK’s Home Secretary announced that medical cannabis would be legalized in Britain and become available by prescription – a move that was cheered by cannabis activists.

“This is a major victory for our campaign and will mean a lot of people will have a much better quality of life,” said Clark French, a multiple sclerosis patient.

It turns out the celebration was premature. After a lengthy review, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently recommended to the National Health Service (NHS) that medications containing cannabidiol (CBD) only be used to treat epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

CBD was not recommended as a treatment for chronic pain, at least not yet.

“There is evidence to suggest that CBD reduces chronic pain,” NICE said. “However, where cannabis-based medicinal products reduced chronic pain, the benefit is small and economic analysis shows that this compares poorly with the high costs of (CBD products).”

Cannabis medications containing THC were also ruled out, even when combined with CBD.  Most cannabis products contain at least trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

NICE said further research was needed to see if CBD can be used to treat for fibromyalgia, neuropathy and cancer pain. It recommended that patients suffering from those conditions should only use CBD if they are part of a clinical trial.


One cannabis activist called the NICE guideline “a massive missed opportunity.”

“It is particularly devastating that there is no positive recommendation that the NHS should allow prescribing of whole-plant medical cannabis containing both CBD and THC in appropriate cases of intractable childhood epilepsy,” Millie Hinton, from the campaign End Our Pain, told The Guardian.

“This restrictive guidance is condemning many patients to having to pay for life-transforming medicine privately, to go without or to consider accessing illegal and unregulated sources.”

The one big winner in all of this is GW Pharmaceuticals, the UK based company that developed Epidiolex and Sativex, two cannabis-based medicines that are used to treat childhood epilepsy and muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis. NICE had previously turned down Epidiolex because of its high cost.

“This is a momentous occasion for UK patients and families who have waited for so many years for rigorously tested, evidenced and regulatory approved cannabis-based medicines to be reimbursed by the NHS,” said Chris Tovey, GW’s Chief Operating Officer. “This is proof that cannabis-based medicines can successfully go through extensive randomised placebo-controlled trials and a rigorous NICE evaluation process to reach patients.”

Last year, the FDA approved the use of Epidiolex to treat seizures caused by two rare forms of childhood epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. The initial list price per patient was $32,500 a year.

Medical cannabis has been approved in 33 U.S. states and Washington DC, but the qualifying conditions vary from state to state. Click here for a list of qualifying conditions in each state.

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