Doctors will be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis for the first time in the UK after the government granted approval.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced that he would relax the rules about the circumstances in which GPs can give the drug to patients after considering expert advice from a specially commissioned review.
It is expected the first prescriptions for medicinal cannabis will be given out in the autumn
The move follows follows a number of high profile cases including that of Alfie Dingley, Billy Caldwell and young epilespy sufferer Murray Gray from Edinburgh, whose mother Karen ran an impassioned campaign to have the drug legalised for medicinal use.
She told The Scotsman: “I think common sense has prevailed here.
“We all know that cannabis is medicinal and now they’re admitting it, so it’s fantastic and a step forward in the right direction.”
An initial review by Dame Sally Davies, chief medical adviser, concluded that there is evidence medicinal cannabis has therapeutic benefits.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which carried out the second part of the review, said last week that doctors should be able to prescribe medicinal cannabis provided products meet safety standards.
It recommended cannabis-derived medicinal products should be placed in Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. Cannabis has previously been classed as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it is thought to have a therapeutic value but can be used for the purposes of research with a Home Office licence.
Yesterday Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory. That is why we launched a review and set up an expert panel to advise on licence applications in exceptional circumstances.
“Following advice from two sets of independent advisers, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products - meaning they will be available on prescription. This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need, but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.”
Responding to the announcement Scottish Government health secretary Jeane Freeman said they welcomed the decision.
She added: “It is now important that the NHS in Scotland is involved in the development of clinical guidelines to support doctors and to make sure that products prescribed to patients are safe, including for children.
“We also welcome the decision to waive fees for applications made to the independent expert panel on behalf of patients wishing to access these products.”
Murray Gray was diagnosed with Myoclonic Astatic Epilepsy (MAE) at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in December 2017 after suffering 12 seizures in one month.
His mother Karen started a petition with help from activists 38 Degrees that attracted 170,000 signatures and was handed into Downing Street with the aim of triggering debate around the issue.
Mrs Gray said that Murray had been specially prescribed epidiolex a form of medicinal cannabis also known as Cannabidiol (CBD) but the decision now opened up slightly stronger types of the drug that contained small traces of the substance Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.
She added: “I did research and was certain medicinal cannabis could help my son.
“We are lucky that his neurologists applied for epidiolex for him and were successful. Murray is in the minority of cases to receive this. With the schedule changing this means that medicinal cannabis will be available for everyone through the NHS.
“I would like to thank everyone for their help throughout my campaign: The Scotsman for first highlighting my campaign, 38 Degrees for working very hard to push this through, Alex Cole-Hamilton my MSP and Christine Jardine my MP, my husband Stuart for putting up with me constantly being on my phone campaigning! Lastly Hannah Deacon, Alfie’s Mum who inspired me to carry on fighting”.
Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine said: ““I cannot express how pleased and relieved I am for Karen and Murray, this is their victory and a moment that could change their lives.
“It’s ridiculous that it has taken mothers to plead for the welfare, the lives of their children, for something to be done by this Government.”