MPs demand ‘urgent’ medicinal cannabis inquiry amid calls to boost drug's availability
Ministers should “urgently” probe the benefits of medicinal cannabis with a view to giving doctors the confidence to prescribe it more widely, MPs have said.
The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee said the system risked “failing” future patients with “distressing and life-threatening conditions” if the Government refused to look at licensing the products.
Specialist doctors have been allowed to prescribe it in the UK since late last year, on the back of campaigning by the families of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, who both suffer from intractable childhood epilepsy.
Ministers also changed the rules around making products available for further research given it had previously been “very difficult” to conduct clinical trials.
But the committee says in its report that despite the rule change, "very few" prescriptions have been issued to those who may benefit from it.
The products remain unlicensed and unapproved by the Government's health guidance body - the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) - while doctors will only prescribe it if they are satisfied that it is safe and of benefit to individual patients, they add.
The MPs also said that pharmaceutical companies which refused to make their products more widely available for testing should be “named and shamed” and that the industry should take a more active role in research itself.
They also called on the Government to stop authorities from confiscating prescribed medicinal cannabis brought into Britain from overseas under specialist supervision.
Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said: “Although the recent changes to Government policy were welcomed, there was a failure to communicate what this would mean in practice for the availability of medicinal cannabis.
“Expectations were unfairly raised that these products would become widely and readily available, and there needs to be far clearer communication that this is not the case.
“However, recent changes to the scheduling do make it easier to conduct robust research into medicinal cannabis, which would build a stronger evidence base so that patients can weigh up any risks and benefits of treatment.
"At present there are too many gaps in the evidence to allow most forms of medicinal cannabis to be licensed for use and approved by NICE.
“We welcome the calls for research proposals from the NIHR and we recommend that intractable childhood epilepsy should be a priority.”
A Government spokesperson said: "We will carefully consider this report and its recommendations alongside the outcome of the NHS England review into the use of cannabis-based products for medicinal use in the NHS.
"In doing so, the Government will consider any further action we might take to strengthen the evidence base and improve access to cannabis-based products for medicinal use where specialist doctors determine it is clinically appropriate."