Faster access to cannabis-based medicines as import restrictions are changed

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Import restrictions have been changed to help ensure people with prescriptions for cannabis-based products for medicinal use do not have their treatment delayed or interrupted.

The changes will help patients with conditions such as rare, serious forms of epilepsy or multiple sclerosis.

Licensed wholesalers will now be able to:

Most cannabis-based medicines are imported from foreign countries. Export restrictions mean it can take weeks or months for the drugs to reach the patients in the UK. For example, in Canada, an export certificate can take 4 to 8 weeks.

In addition, safeguards against addiction and the misuse of drugs mean that patients with prescriptions for unlicensed medicines, such as medicinal cannabis, need to have their prescription reviewed every 30 days by specialist doctors. This can lead to delays in treatment if there are also delays to imports.

The new measures will be implemented by the Home Office and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) from 2 March.

It 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.

The government 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.

The government will also 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.

In November last year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended 2 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.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:

Every time I meet the families of young people dealing so bravely with childhood epilepsy, I am reminded of just how much they have been through.

The changes made today are a tremendous step towards improving the supply of cannabis-based medicinal products by helping to ensure quicker and more reliable access for patients.

But we still have a long way to go. We need more research into the quality and safety of these medicines, and to do all we can to cut down the costs and remove barriers so that, when appropriate, patients can access it, including on the NHS.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

I have taken swift action to allow specialist doctors to issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicinal products, when they consider their patients would benefit from this treatment.

This will allow patients and their families with challenging conditions to access them more easily, when appropriate, to ensure they can be treated in days, not months.

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