The NHS has approved two cannabis-based medicines after examining products that have the herb as an ingredient.
The approved medicines are used for treating epilepsy and multiple sclerosis(MS).
NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, recommended new guidelines, which looked at products for several different conditions. Both of the substances were developed in the UK.
The medicine, Epidyolex, has been approved for treating two rare types of epilepsy – Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes. This means that more people with these epilepsy syndromes will be able to access Epidyolex, in case other treatments have not worked. Likewise, the spray Sativex is recommended to treat muscle spasms for people with MS.
According to the BBC, over 8,000 people in the UK have Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes. Clinical trials have shown that Epidyolex could reduce the number of seizures by up to 40% in some children.
The cannabis-based medicine was approved in Europe in September. However, NICE found it too expensive for patients – it was valued between £5,000 and £10,000 each year. Fortunately, GW Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer, has agreed with the NHS to a discounted price.
What’s interesting about this medicine is that it does not contain the main psychoactive component of cannabis, THC.
However, the mouth spray Sativex has a mixture of THC and cannabidiol(CBD) in it.
The spray has been approved for treating muscle stiffness and spasms, in patients with MS. Although it treats multiple sclerosis, doctors are not allowed to prescribe it as a painkiller. Sativex’s cost per patient is around £2,000 a year.
Regulators in England initially stated that the medicine was not cost-effective. However, it is available on the NHS in Wales since 2014. That decision has now been reversed, and Sativex should also be available in Northern Ireland.
Since November last year, it is legal for doctors in the UK to prescribe medical cannabis.
Although they are allowed to do it, many doctors avoid giving cannabis-based medicaments to their patients due to the lack of clear guidance.
As for Millie Hinton, spokeswoman of the campaign End Our Pain, the guidelines are a ‘massive missed opportunity‘ for thousands of people who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines. During an interview with The Guardian she says:
“It is particularly devastating that there is no positive recommendation that the NHS should allow prescribing of whole-plant medical cannabis containing both CBD (cannabidiol) and THC in appropriate cases of intractable childhood epilepsy.
It is this kind of whole plant extract that has been shown to be life-transforming for a significant number of children, including these involved in the high-profile cases of last year which led to medical cannabis being legalised.”
According to NHS, medical cannabis can be given to a very limited amount of people.
“A prescription for medical cannabis would only be given when it was believed to be in your best interests, and when other treatments hadn’t worked or weren’t suitable.
It’s expected this would only apply to a very small number of people in England.”
As these two cannabis-based medicines have been approved, it seems things are moving in the right direction. Hopefully, soon more people in need will have access to this life-changing treatment.