Posts Tagged ‘medicine’
Essentially, UK government policy on cannabis hasn’t altered since 1971. Despite the vast amount of new evidence published since then and revolutionary change, particularly on medicinal use, all across the world, successive governments have stubbornly and obstinately refused to consider any sort of reform.
It doesn’t matter which party has been in power, Conservative, Labour or the coalition, it’s a subject that ministers and MPs simply refuse to engage with. It’s easier that way for them and be in no doubt: laziness, fear of a media backlash and deeply ingrained prejudice are the key factors in this impasse.
We had the downgrade to class C in 2003 and then back up to B in 2009 but this was a turgid and useless effort. No notice was taken of any evidence arising from this experiment. It was enacted to enable police to concentrate more on class A drugs and reversed based on Gordon Brown’s ‘Presbyterian conscience’ and a grubby, corrupt deal with Paul Dacre to win the Daily Mail’s political support. In fact, use went down while cannabis was class C and back up again when it was upgraded but governments have no interest in facts or evidence on this subject, only in political expediency and spinning advantage with the media.
The clamour for medicinal access has increased enormously, just as the evidence for its safety and efficacy has become overwhelming. The UK is now virtually isolated amongst first world countries with a cruel, inhumane and anti-evidence policy which makes us a laughing stock with all who are properly informed. It’s not a laughing matter for the victims though. For those persecuted by this nasty policy it is tears, pain, suffering, disability – all of which could be alleviated to at least some extent just by a stroke of the Home Secretary’s pen. It is sickening that all those who have held that office over the last 45 years escape without any shame or opprobrium on their character.
CLEAR receives hundreds of letters and emails every year from people who have written to their MP about medicinal cannabis and it is astonishing that unlike almost every other policy, exactly the same words are used by all MPs. They slavishly repeat the Home Office line which is ruthlessly enforced across party lines.
There have been some subtle changes. The marketing authorisation issued for Sativex in 2010 has led to a minor change in the tired and inaccurate line ‘there is no medicinal value in cannabis’. It’s now become ‘there is no medicinal value in raw cannabis’. This is scientifically and factually incorrect. Pharmacologically, Sativex and the ‘raw’ plants from which it is made are identical. It is whole plant cannabis oil and its authorisation by the MHRA as an extract of THC and CBD is fundamentally dishonest. GW Pharmaceuticals reveals it contains more than 400 molecules, the MHRA says it only contains two and “unspecified impurities”.
More recently, and in the face of an explosion of supportive evidence, another line has been added. This states that ‘the UK has a well established process for the approval of medicines through the MHRA and that any company wishing to bring a medicinal cannabis product to market should follow this procedure. In fact, inside sources suggest that the government is very keen to see new cannabis-based medicines approved by the MHRA. It would take the wind out of the sails of the medical cannabis campaign
This is the very last excuse for denying access to medicinal cannabis. It is nothing but an excuse and one that is misleading and based on deception. If we can expose how weak, inappropriate and fake it is, the government will have nowhere else to hide.
Firstly, as demonstrated with Sativex, the MHRA process is incapable of dealing with a medicine that contains hundreds of molecules. It is designed by the pharmaceutical industry for regulating single molecule medicines, usually synthesised in a lab, which have the potential to be highly toxic. CLEAR rejects the tired, boring theory that ‘Big Pharma’ is engaged in a massive conspiracy to deny access to cannabis and to ‘keep people ill’ so it can continue to sell its products to the NHS. The MHRA isn’t engaged in such malevolent conduct, it’s simply incapable of properly evaluating a whole plant extract through its existing methods.
The bright, shining truth of this, that totally demolishes the government’s position, is that in every jusrisdiction throughout the world where medicinal cannabis has been legally regulated, it is through a special system outside pharmaceutical medicines regulation. Every other government that has recognised the enormous benefit that medicinal cannabis offers has come to the same conclusion: cannabis is a special case. It is far more complex but much, much safer than pharmaceutical products.
Of course, there is also the ludicrous status of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug, which prevents doctors from prescribing it. If it was moved to schedule 2, alongside heroin and cocaine, or to schedule 4 alongside Sativex (the logical choice), doctors could be prescribing it tomorrow and high-quality, GMP and EU regulated medicinal cannabis from Bedrocan would be immediately available.
So the MHRA is the final excuse, the last obstacle to a revolution in healthcare in the UK. We need an ‘Office of Medicinal Cannabis’ as there is in the Netherlands, or ‘Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations’ as administered by Health Canada. Colorado has its ‘Medical Marijuana Registry Program’ and other US states have similar arrangements. Israel’s Ministry of Health has its ‘Medical Cannabis Unit’. In Australia, its equivalent of the MHRA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has established its own set of medical cannabis regulations.
This is now the most important factor in achieving medical cannabis law reform. Next time you contact your MP or in any advocacy or campaign work you do, this is where to focus your energy. Cannabis is a special case, it is not like other medicines. Once we can open the eyes to this truth the path ahead will be clear.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the response to the recent call from MPs and peers to legalise cannabis for medicinal use has come straight from the top. Theresa May’s longstanding reputation as a denier of science and evidence on drugs policy is reinforced by her peremptory dismissal of the expert report. It seems that, at least in the short term, the UK government is sticking by a policy that is discredited, ridiculous and deeply cruel.
It fell to Sarah Newton MP, minister of state at the Home Office, to respond to a parliamentary question from Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Birmingham, Hall Green.
“To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will respond to the recommendations of the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform Accessing Medicinal Cannabis: Meeting Patients’ Needs, published in September 2016.”
“The Prime Minister responded to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform’s report ‘Accessing Medicinal Cannabis: Meeting Patients’ Needs’ on the 27 October.
Cannabis is controlled as a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and, in its raw form, currently has no recognised medicinal benefits in the UK. It is therefore listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.
It is important that all medicines containing controlled drugs are thoroughly trialled to ensure they meet rigorous standards so that doctors and patients are sure of their efficacy and safety. To do otherwise for cannabis would amount to a circumvention of the clearly established and necessary regime for approving medicines in the UK.”
In other words, this is nothing more than a re-statement of the same position that the UK government has held since 1971 when legal access to medicinal cannabis was halted. Quite clearly the government has given no consideration at all to the vast amount of scientific evidence and international experience that has accumulated over the last 45 years. The latest report which took nine months to produce, took evidence from over 600 witnesses and included a review of over 20,000 scientific studies is simply cast aside. To be honest, I doubt whether it has even been read by Ms May or anyone in the Home Office or Department of Health. This is the standard that now prevails in the UK – government of the people by an unaccountable, out-of-touch, unresponsive cabal of individuals elected by a deeply flawed system that gives democracy a bad name.
On the face of it, the claim that all medicines must be thoroughly trialled seems plausible – but it is not. It is a misleading half-truth clearly intended to squash the call for access to medicinal cannabis by painting a false picture.
Doctors are allowed to prescribe any medicine, licensed or unlicensed, as they see fit, based on their own judgement. But prescribing of cannabis is specifically prohibited by Statutory Instrument despite the scientific consensus that it is far less dangerous than many, probably most commonly prescribed medicines.
So it’s not a level playing field. It’s a policy that is based on prejudice and scaremongering about recreational use of cannabis. Ms Newton’s answer is at best disingenuous but then she probably doesn’t even realise that herself. For many years Home Office policy has been systematically to mislead and misinform on cannabis and evidently under Ms May’s successor, Amber Rudd MP, such dishonesty continues.
Something will eventually force the government’s hand to change its absurd position on cannabis. Sadly the very last consideration will be scientific evidence or the will of the people. Such factors hold no sway with UK governments. Only when enough of the political elite open their eyes and examine their conscience, or some key individuals or their family members, experience the need for medicinal cannabis will change become possible. Alternatively, political upheaval may present an opportunity. The Liberal Democrats were too cowardly, weak and concerned with building their personal careers when in coalition to advance the cause they now so bravely advocate. Perhaps the SNP, with 56 MPs, all in favour of medicinal cannabis may be our best hope.
Sarah Newton is merely a puppet of the Home Office bureaucracy. Theresa May’s mendacious position on all aspects of drugs policy is well established and she is as stubborn and bigoted as they come on such matters. Only when she, in person, is subject to sufficient pressure will this cruel, ignorant and hateful policy change.
In a new initiative, CLEAR’s scientific and medical advisor, Professor Mike Barnes, has written to the presidents of several Royal Colleges proposing the development of guidelines around the use of cannabis as medicine.
This is a tricky situation for doctors. Surveys and individual reports from CLEAR members indicate that many doctors tacitly endorse their patients’ use of cannabis but clearly cannot recommend the illegal use of cannabis, however safe and effective it may be.
“…cannabis now has a reasonable evidence base for the management of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain, and the management of spasticity as well as in the management of anxiety and a use in nausea and vomiting in the context of chemotherapy.”
In conjunction with CLEAR, Professor Barnes has written to:
Royal College of Anaesthetists
Royal College of General Practitioners
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Royal College of Physicians
Royal College of Psychiatrists
His letter goes on to explain that about one million people are using cannabis as medicine:
“I do feel that doctors need guidelines to assist them when patients request advice on the use of cannabis…doctors should be properly informed about harm reduction advice and should be aware of the clinical evidence that is now guiding medicinal use in several other countries around the world.”
Our proposal is for an initial meeting to discuss the idea. If one or more of the Royal Colleges is prepared to back this initiative, CLEAR will set up and fund a working group of clinicians and medical education specialists to develop a set of guidelines.
“This is marvellous news for liberty, health and human rights. The USA, unlike Britain, has a functioning democracy where the will of the people prevails rather than the bigotry and self-interest of politicians. It is wonderful to see that truth, justice and evidence is winning out over the lies and misinformation we have been fed about cannabis for almost 100 years.
In 1971, the British government abdicated all responsibility on cannabis and abandoned our communities and our children to criminal gangs. Since then all the harms have multiplied exponentially. The laws against cannabis fund organised crime, promote dangerous hidden farms which are fire risks, the destruction of rental property, selling to children, contaminated ‘moonshine’ cannabis, gang violence, lives ruined by criminal records and the cruel denial of safe, effective medicine that can relieve pain, suffering and disability.
Donald Trump has supported access to medicinal cannabis all along. Many British politicians who consider him to be an unreasonable person should now look to themselves and ask whether they are being reasonable by supporting prohibition, even for medical use.
It is time for Theresa May, Amber Rudd and the UK government to take responsibility for the £6 billion pa cannabis market. The tide of legalisation is now unstoppable and it would be deeply irresponsible for them to fail to act. They must grasp this nettle now!”
Peter Reynolds, president of CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform
This statement was published on the MHRA website at lunchtime today.
“Update 1 November 2016
An MHRA spokesperson said:
While MHRA has given its opinion that products containing cannabidiol (CBD) used for medical purposes are medicines, we have also carefully considered the needs of individuals using CBD products to treat or manage the symptoms of medical conditions.
Our primary concern is patient safety. In order to ensure that products remain available until individuals have the opportunity to discuss their treatment with their doctor, companies now have until 31 December 2016 to voluntarily operate within the law, by withdrawing their existing products from the market, or working with MHRA to satisfy the legal requirements of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012.
We have today written to the manufacturers of CBD to make them aware of the timeline for engagement.
It is vital that medicines meet safety, quality and efficacy standards to protect public health.”
Originally the MHRA wrote to CBD suppliers in threatening terms:
“You must cease to sell, supply, promote, advertise or process orders for the above products until appropriate authorisation has been granted for them. You must confirm this in writing within 28 days from the date of this letter that you have taken the above steps.”
So quite a change in tone. The MHRA seems to have recognised that contrary to its declared mission ‘to improve health’, its original statement actually endangered the health of tens of thousands of people.
Additionally, solicitors representing the UKCTA have now written to the MHRA seeking clarification of its intentions and making three crucial points:
- The letters to CBD suppliers and the MHRA’s original press statement have caused serious financial damage to the CBD industry.
- The MHRA has conducted no effective consultation with stakeholders.
- The MHRA’s own guidelines require it to consider each product on a case by case basis and a blanket ban on products containing CBD would be unlawful.
Professor Mike Barnes, scientific and medical advisor to CLEAR, commented:
“The MHRA’s new stance is an improvement from their previous position. However, I cannot see any value in delaying only a few months. Some patients might be able to find an alternative medicine from their doctor but many people will have already tried alternative medications and found that CBD is the only satisfactory treatment for their condition. This is the case, for example, for children with epilepsy who will have almost certainly have been under the care of a specialist and tried available anticonvulsants and found that CBD is the only treatment that works for them. The MHRA does not seem to realise the impact of this arbitrary and rushed decision which will clearly be detrimental and potentially have very serious (and in some cases life threatening) implications for some people. The MHRA need to work with the manufacturers and the medical profession to determine the best way forward that both recognises that cannabis based products have medicinal value, and as such need proper trials of efficacy and safety, yet on the other hand does not place existing users at risk of harm”.