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The three barriers blocking access to cannabis in the UK

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The chair of the ACMD and Drug Science's chair have partnered to write an open letter

In a letter to the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Drug Science has highlighted the three main barriers blocking access to medical cannabis in the UK.

Following the release of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) report on medical cannabis in November last year, the independent drugs charity, Drug Science has responded with three key issues which “hamper” the clinical use and research of medical cannabis.

In an open letter to Owen Bowden-Jones, chair of the ACMD, Professor David Nutt chair of Drug Science, referred to three barriers related to scheduling, importation and prescriptions which block patients’ access to cannabis.

The Schedule 2 status

The statement begins by criticising the legal status of cannabis-based medicinal products which primarily fall under Schedule 2 apart from Sativex, a THC-containing medication for treating spasticity, which is a Schedule 4 substance.

Drug Science suggests that moving all cannabis-based medical products to the lower schedule would improve patient access by removing some of the complexities of prescribing storing and importing the products.

“Schedules relate to the relative safety of medicines and define safe-keeping and prescribing regulations,” Prof Nutt said.

“Decisions on the correct Schedule for any medicine should therefore reflect risk of harm from inappropriate prescribing, theft and diversion.

“Where the risks of medical cannabis products are no different from those of Sativex, which is in Schedule 4.1, we would suggest putting medical cannabis products into that same Schedule.”

The organisation also questioned the scheduling of CBD-based epilepsy medication, Epidyolex as a Schedule 5 substance.

“Given it has no abuse liability there would appear to be no reason to Schedule it, or indeed other cannabidiol products at all,” Prof Nutt said.

Import restrictions

In the wake of Brexit, many of the UK’s medical cannabis patients have found their supply of medication from the Netherlands under threat.

Drug Science criticised ACMD’s approach of limiting importation to reduce the diversion of cannabis to recreational use and argues that this causes more damage to health than it protects.

“Increasing importation quantities to a year’s supply per patient would greatly improve the provision and flow of cannabis medicines,” Prof Nutt said

“Allowing companies to bring product into the UK without having to first provide clinical need letters from individual doctors would ease the importation and reduce delay in product supply to the UK.”

Not allowing GPs to prescribe

Drug Science’s third barrier to access is the UK’s current model for prescribing cannabis medicines, which must be initiated by a specialist doctor.

The statement points out that the majority of patients who take medical cannabis do so to treat conditions that are commonly cared for by GPs, such as pain and anxiety.

“Surely now it is time to allow those who would like to, to initiate prescribing,” Prof Nutt added. “We know a number of GPs who are interested in doing such training

Drug Science suggests that this could be allowed for a limited number of symptoms. Pinpointing pain as an example, Bowden Jones noted that this could facilitate a reduction in the use of pain-killing opioids.

The open letter makes frequent references to its flagship Twenty21 initiative which aims to create the UK’s largest body of evidence for the effectiveness and tolerability of medical cannabis.

So far, the Twenty21 database is being used by over twenty-five clinicians and over six hundred patients. According to Nutt, this is expected to grow to “many thousands” in 2021.

The statement also refers to the organisation’s audit of clinical outcomes in children and young people with epilepsy who are taking cannabis-based medical products, published last year.

Nutt said: “This has revealed that full-spectrum medical cannabis products from Bedrocan Holland have significantly reduced seizure frequency in all ten patients, some becoming completely seizure-free.”

Its report found on average, patients using Bedrocan oils experienced an 80 percent reduction in seizure frequency, in what the Nutt describes as “convincing proof”of the improved efficacy of this form of medical cannabis, compared to commonly used isolate-based products, Sativex and Epidyolex.

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Weekend digest: Six big stories from the cannabis world you might have missed

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Another week, another rollercoaster in the fast-moving world of cannabis.

At Cannabis Health, our in depth coverage of the ongoing growth of cannabis as a medical and wellness product continues

Meanwhile, over at Cannabis Wealth, we’ve been following all the big industry and policy news in a week which has seen some important developments..

Been busy and want to get caught up in a hurry?

Here are the six things you need to read to stay in the loop this week.

1. Products pulled from shelves

Two batches of medical cannabis products have been recalled by regulators as investigations are carried out, following reports they may be contaminated with mould.

Medical cannabis pharmacy, Dispensary Green and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have issued a ‘precautionary’ product recall since being made aware of ‘defects’ in patient’s medication.

Concerns were initially raised after a number of medical cannabis patients spotted what they believed to be mould spores in their prescriptions.

Full story here.

2. NFL turns to medical cannabis

The National Football League (NFL) in America is providing $1 million in funding for research into pain management and cannabinoids.

The NFL is funding research into medical cannabis.

The pain management committee of the NFL and the NFL Players Association announced it would stump up the funding on Tuesday 8 June.

According to the organisation’s news platform, the move is the next step in a shifting attitude towards players who use medicinal cannabis to manage pain from injuries.

You can read more here.

3. More medical cannabis evidence

Researchers have found that the cannabinoids CBD and CBG, when used in combination, are beneficial for treating inflammation in the lungs.

Scientists at King’s College London, working in collaboration with Sativa Wellness Group have published the first results from a study into the impact of cannabinoids on respiratory diseases.

It aimed to investigate the anti-inflammatory effects of the two non-psychotropic cannabinoids alone and in combination, in a model of pulmonary inflammation.

Full details here.

4. Germany to vote for reform?

Germany’s national election on September 26 could be a landmark moment for Europe’s cannabis industry.

As Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to leave the stage, the European Union’s most influential country looks destined for a political shakeup.

Annalena Baerbock could become Germany’s first pro-drug reform Chancellor.

It could mark a huge moment for the cannabis industry as Germany’s parliament might swing in favour of legislation.

Here’s everything you need to know about it.

5. Adapt or fail

The pro-drug reform lobby must accept it has failed and change to push its agenda ahead, leading experts have warned.

Speaking at a Global Cannabis Intelligence event about the state of advocacy in the UK, three leading policy advocates set out how they think greater access can be achieved.

The discussion comes week after the 50-year anniversary of the passage of the The Misuse of Drugs Act.

Read the full story here.

6. Isle of Man steps up

The Isle of Man government has declared it is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

In a big to create 250 new jobs and generate £3m a year for the island, policymakers want it to become ‘a world-leading exporter’.

Applications are now open for licences to produce and distribute treatments on the island, as well as to use it as an export base.

Full details here.

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New tracking app launches for UK medical cannabis patients

Through the app patients will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage

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The free health monitoring app is already being used elsewhere in the world.

UK medical cannabis suppliers Grow Pharma have teamed up with an Australian tech firm to launch a new app for patients.

The partnership with OnTracka will see them launch Calyx, a free health monitoring app already being used elsewhere in the world.

Users will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage, speak securely with their doctor and contribute to gathering evidence about the use of medical cannabis.

The app will also be available in Ireland and the Channel Islands after successful launches in Australia, the US and South America.

Users will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage

Pierre Van Weperen, CEO of Grow Pharma said: “Grow Pharma is currently fulfilling around a third of all prescriptions for the UK’s medicinal cannabis patients.

“Our prominent role gives us a significant advantage to building data insights into how patients are managing their health.

“This is integral to pave the way towards increasing access for patients in the UK through providing doctors with confidence around the safety and efficacy of these products.

“Using the app will generate important insights to provide real-time evidence to doctors and regulators.”

Grow Pharma hopes the app will help ‘rapidly accelerate an understanding of the safety, quality, and efficacy’ of medical cannabis.

Insights gained via the app will ‘advance the industry forward in the service of patients, shaping future legislation and policy based on patient experiences’ by providing real-world data to regulators.

Grow is in the process of raising £6 million worth of capital via a private funding round expect to be completed later this month.

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Isle of Man launches medical cannabis export sector

The Isle of Man is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

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The move could 250 new jobs and generate £3 million a year for the island

The Isle of Man government has declared it is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

In a big to create 250 new jobs and generate £3 million a year for the island, policymakers want it to become ‘a world-leading exporter’.

Applications are now open for licences to produce and distribute treatments on the island, as well as to use it as an export base.

The island’s regulator – the Gambling Supervision Commission – has set out conditions for the licensing of high-THC cannabis and hemp.

Enterprise minister Laurence Skelly said: “The growing global medicinal cannabis market provides significant opportunity for economic development in the Isle of Man, and the new regulatory framework and guidance will offer stringent and flexible licensing of a broad range of cannabis products, which ranges from outdoor grown industrial hemp to indoor grown medicinal products.

“The Isle of Man Government has every confidence that the GSC will provide a world class regulatory structure required to regulate this new and complex industry.

The Isle of Man wants to be a major player in Europe’s growing medical cannabis industry.

“I am delighted to welcome licence applications and look forward to attracting quality businesses to the Island, transforming the cannabis export sector into a key contributor to the Isle of Man’s post-Covid economic recovery.”

The self-governing British Crown Dependency, which has a population of 83,000, approved new medical cannabis laws in January.

The island’s parliament – the Tynwald – moved to attract the industry to its shores after a public consultation showed 95 percent of residents were in favour of the policy.

Mark Rutherford, director of policy at the island’s regulator, said: “The GSC already has a sophisticated framework for supervising gambling.

‘We have worked carefully to apply the best of that framework to the risks in the new sector and we have educated ourselves in the technical areas that are new to us.

“What we now have will ensure that all stakeholders will be competent, crime free and capable of building a sector that is safe, trusted and efficient.

“As regulators, we aspire to put our regulatory umbrella above as many consumers as possible so that they can benefit from regulations that are well thought out and properly supervised.

“Years of prohibition mean that the markets in which our licensees will be participating are still in their infancy and still contain many uncertainties.

“To address this situation, it is our aim to ensure that consumers who purchase Isle of Man products will be able to understand exactly what their product contains through accurate labelling and independent testing.

“The GSC recognises there are many stakeholders in this newly created field and intends to extend its ethos of cooperation with other government authorities into its approach to cannabis regulation.”

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