Experts begin work looking at medicinal cannabis prescriptions

An expert panel has begun its work assessing applications from doctors to prescribe cannabis-related medicines.

On Monday US regulators approved the first marijuana-derived drug ever to hit the US market, Epidiolex, which will be used to treat two rare and severe forms of childhood epilepsy. Picture: AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck

Led by Dr Michael McBride, the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, the group will look at individual applications to ensure the treatment required is safe.

Earlier this month, Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced a review of medicinal cannabis, including a study to be carried out by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on whether a reclassification is needed.

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The decision follows a campaign by Charlotte Caldwell, whose son Billy has severe epilepsy and was given cannabis oil to help reduce the number of seizure he suffers.

The expert panel, which was announced at Westminster last week, is now accepting applications from senior clinicians who want to prescribe cannabis-related medicines. The Home Office said the process had been designed to be “swift and accessible”, with a final decision expected in each case within two to four weeks of the panel making its recommendation to ministers.

The panel will consider whether there is evidence from a patient’s case that they have benefited from a cannabis-related medicine or evidence that indicates the patient is likely to benefit.

Policing minister Nick Hurd said: “I completely sympathise with the families who have been facing desperate situations to find treatment and we have taken action, creating an expert panel to review individual medicinal cannabis licence applications.

“Clinicians must be at the heart of the process to provide the reassurance that prescribing unlicensed and potentially untested products is in the best interests of the patient.”

He added: “I look forward to receiving the expert panel’s recommendations in the knowledge that these families will be prescribed the most appropriate course of treatment, firmly based on medical evidence. We have been clear that we will continue to push hard against any unnecessary bureaucracy.”

The Home Office has said that if the ongoing review identifies significant medicinal and therapeutic benefits, then its intention is to reschedule medicinal cannabis and related products for therapeutic use.

Dr Michael McBride said: “The establishment of this panel means that applications from patients’ doctors to prescribe, supply and provide access to cannabis-related medicines can now be considered and endorsed on the basis of best clinical practice in order to ensure safe and appropriate care for patients.”

It is thought medicinal cannabis could treat conditions including epilepsy Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.