Drug policy reform in the United Kingdom is notoriously slow, more or less non-existent, which makes its most recent steps forward highly surprising. While change only came about after a public backlash over the confiscation of legally obtained CBD oil for a 12-year-old boy with severe epilepsy, medical cannabis in the UK is now available for patients with specific and extreme circumstances.
Medicine Man Technologies watched the story unfold this June when Charlotte Caldwell, the mother of a young boy who endured nearly 100 epileptic seizures each day, flew to Canada to legally purchase a high-CBD, low-THC oil to treat his condition. She publicly announced her plan to challenge Britain’s ban on medical cannabis by openly “smuggling” her son’s medication back through customs.
Ms. Caldwell had this to say, “I will ask them if they will let me keep this safe, regulated medicine that has kept my little boy alive – or are they going to take it off me, condemning my son to possible death? If they confiscate Billy’s medicine and arrest me, they are signing his death warrant.”
As feared, the CBD oil was confiscated by authorities at London’s Heathrow Airport. Caldwell then met with the UK Minister of State for Policing, Nick Hurd, who denied her request to have the oil returned.
What’s perplexing is that Caldwell’s son, Billy, was actually the first patient to be granted a prescription for medical cannabis by the National Health Service in the UK after first being successfully treated in the United States. However, Billy’s doctor was threatened with disbarment by the Home Office, British law enforcement, and the family was forced to seek out medical cannabis elsewhere – Canada.
Inevitably, after Billy’s medication was confiscated, the lack of treatment caused Ms. Caldwell’s son to suffer his first seizure in over a year. The episode was recorded and posted to social media where their plight gained worldwide attention and generated pressure on lawmakers to address medical cannabis in the UK. The stakes were soon raised when Billy was admitted to the hospital in severe condition.
Finally, government officials at the Home Office realized that they could no longer deny the boy his life-saving medication. Billy was granted a license that allows him to break the law and access the CBD oil he needs. It was also given to another boy, Alfie Dingley, facing similar circumstances.
According to Sajid Javid, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, “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 license applications in exceptional circumstances. This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need but is in no way a first step to the legalization of cannabis for recreational use.”
In October, Javid announced that medical cannabis in the UK would be rescheduled under its drug laws and available for patients by prescription as of November 1.
What Medication is Available for UK Patients Today?
The National Health Service has since clarified that very few people will qualify for a prescription of medical cannabis in the UK.
The first hurdle is that it must be prescribed by a specialist, not a general practitioner, on a case-by-case basis. And at this point, the only conditions that would likely qualify are severe or rare forms of epilepsy in children and adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy. Another possible application is for spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS) only when other treatments have not helped.
In fact, the first round of clinician guidelines provided by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Paediatric Neurology Association clearly state that, “cannabis-based products for medicinal use should only be prescribed for indications where there is clear published evidence of benefit or UK Guidelines and in patients where there is a clinical need which cannot be met by a licensed medicine and where established treatment options have been exhausted.”
These limitations have been perceived as overly restrictive and are compounded by the longstanding prohibition of medical cannabis in the UK which means many doctors are not aware of existing studies on efficacy or trained on treatment options and dosages. The likely result is that very few patients will receive their much-needed medication until further research has been done and training implemented.
Here at Medicine Man Technologies, we absolutely would like to see more progress made in the very near future. However, thinking back to just a year ago, we would never have imagined the UK making this small step forward. It’s our hope that given time, they will embrace and empower a legal medical cannabis market for the sake of Billy Caldwell, Alfie Dingley and all of its citizens in need.
If you wish to start your own legal enterprise in the U.S. or anywhere across the globe, please contact us for private consulting, as well as help with licensing, cultivating, dispensary operations and more.