Cannabis oil. Photo: Guildextracts

Cannabis oil. Photo: Guildextracts

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), the UK government’s leading source for advice on drugs, has completed a review and recommended that cannabis-based medical products be downgraded to schedule 2 under the 2001 Misuse of Drugs Regulations, where previously they were schedule 1. Schedule 1 thingies are considered to have no therapeutic value and are illegal; they can still be used for research if Home Office approval is granted in the form of a licence. Schedule 2 products include heroin, known politely as diamorphine, and some cocaine-derived items.

Cannabis has “therapeutic benefit”

The ACMD’s change of heart follows the first part of a review concluded last month, June 2018. In it, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sally Davies, admitted that there was evidence of cannabis-based products having “therapeutic benefit.” The ACMD asked the Department of Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to define which products should be legalised.

Why it had to be done

It was Home Secretary Sajid Javid who called for the review after a selection of cases of children who were denied access to cannabis oil made the news internationally and attracted the interest of slebs. The oil was thought to lessen their epileptic seizures. These include those of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell and six-year-old Alfie Dingley, who have intractable epilepsy which seems to improve when they take cannabis oil. Dingley was the first in the United Kingdom to be given a licence for the receipt of medicinal cannabis.

When the review was announced, it was reported that the cabinet was divided, with Prime Minister Theresa May believing there should be no review. Javid was against legalisation for recreational purposes. He thanked the ACMD for its contribution, which he stated he was “carefully considering” and would act upon “shortly.”

Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, chairman of the ACMD, declared that medicinal cannabis products varied hugely in terms of composition and thus effectiveness, while clinicians and patients plus their families needed to be confident that prescribed medicine was effective and safe. The ACMD has requested clinical trials forthwith to gauge the effectiveness and safety of available products. Its advice covers “internationally available products” but not actual dope.

It’s delightful, oh yes

Professor Mike Barnes, who assisted Dingley, announced that he was “delighted,” and “More widespread access to medicinal cannabis in the UK is now within touching distance.” Sir Mike Penning, co-chairman of the recently established cross-party parliamentary group on medicinal cannabis under prescription, called the move “another massive step” towards allowing patients access to what many will find to be “a life-changing medicine” and “the dawn of a whole new era for medicinal cannabis in the UK” but cautioned that there was “still work to do” in defining just which products are covered.

Meanwhile, Ian Hamilton, who lectures on medical health for the University of York, wrote off the ACMD’s advice as “overly cautious,” since it was equating cannabis to heroin, which is considerably more dangerous.

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