Medical Marijuana Is Available in the U.K. But It Still Won't Be an Option for Many


Medical marijuana is now legal in the U.K., but multiple hoops to jump through and strict exclusionary rules will make it hard for some patients to access it.

Starting Wednesday, those in the U.K. will be able to make an appointment with a specialist to get a prescription. You will not be able to get cannabis from your general provider. Medical cannabis will only be an option for people who have exhausted all other typical and licensed treatments for their condition.

Only three conditions or situations are specified for a prescription of medical marijuana. People with rare childhood forms of epilepsy, nausea or vomiting from chemotherapy, and spasticity (muscle stiffness and spasms) from multiple sclerosis (MS) may be able to get a prescription.

The National Health Service specifically states medical cannabis will only be available for a very small portion of people in the U.K. and instructs people to not ask their doctor about medical marijuana unless one of the three situations above applies to them.

Medical marijuana and most medications derived from cannabis are not licensed in the U.K., meaning it hasn’t undergone enough clinical trials or hasn’t met strict safety standards, but a doctor believes the benefits outweigh the risks. The only licensed cannabis-derived medication is Sativex, which is used in the treatment of spasticity from MS. Epidiolex, which is FDA-approved in the U.S., is in the process of becoming licensed.

Epidiolex is used to treat two rare forms of childhood epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Both of these disorders have high mortality rates and cause developmental or intellectual disabilities.

The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Epidiolex caused the Drug Enforcement Agency to reclassify some products with CBD, a derivative of marijuana which does not produce a “high,” from Schedule I to Schedule V. Schedule V means Epidiolex is considered safe and has therapeutic benefits. The U.K. has done something similar. Cannabis-based products were under Schedule One but have now moved to Schedule Two, meaning they have potential medical benefits.

Photo via Getty Images/J. Malama


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