Some patients in the United Kingdom could soon qualify for the use of medical marijuana. The British government announced on Thursday that it is was eliminating some of the restrictions associated with the cannabis plant. The move would give physicians the ability to prescribe cannabis products to those who do not respond to traditional treatments.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that patients with drug-resistant conditions would be given permission to use medicine derived from the cannabis plant. In order to make this possible, the UK plans to downgrade the Schedule I classification of the plant to a Schedule II, according to the Guardian. This will be done “by the autumn,” the Home Office said.
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It was high-profile cases like Billy Caldwell, the 12-year-old with severe epilepsy who almost died as a result of having his CBD oil confiscated by authorities, which prompted the government to make this decision.
“Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory,” Javid said. “Following advice from two sets of independent advisors, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products—meaning they will be available on prescription.”
Although the Health Secretary asserts the amended rules “will help patients with an exceptional clinical need,” he is quick to point out that the change is in “no way” “a first step” in ending cannabis prohibition. Javid remains adamant that recreational pot use is not something that is on the horizon with the coming of this reclassification.
Still, it remains to be seen just how many medical conditions will qualify for cannabis care under the new rules.
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There will, however, be one added benefit because of this action—more research. Right now, it is difficult to study a potential medicine that has been lumped into the Schedule I classification. But by reducing the plant to a Schedule II, Dr. Tom Freeman, a senior academic fellow at King’s College London, says it will have a “substantial impact on research by facilitating the development of safer more effective medicine.”
Meanwhile, despite 30 states having legalized the leaf for medical use, the United States government still refuses to downgrade the Schedule I status of the cannabis plant. Even though there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence suggesting it has a variety of therapeutic functions, the Schedule I label has made it difficult for researchers to prove it. The closest they’ve come is through the pharmaceutical industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first cannabis-based drug (Epidiolex) for distribution in the states. Federal agencies are being forced to downgrade the Schedule I classification of the non-intoxicating compound cannabidiol (CBD).