Published: Wed, November 13, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

You can now get cannabis-based medicine on the NHS

You can now get cannabis-based medicine on the NHS

We also welcome NICE's recommendation for further research into cannabis-based medicines for uncontrolled epilepsy and agree this is urgently needed to ensure these treatments are effective and safe for children and young people's health in the longer run.

The medicine is used to treat severe seizures for people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome - rare forms of epilepsy.

Campaigners welcomed the decision, but said thousands of other people with a range of conditions who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines were left in limbo.

The new guidance from NICE looked at cannabis-based products for several conditions.

"Dravet and Lennox Gastaut syndromes are both complex hard epilepsies with limited effective treatment options and this gives patients another option... that could make a difference to care", BBC quoted Helen Cross, who led the Epidyolex trials in the U.K. She is a consultant in pediatric neurology at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Additionally, the organisation recommended Sativex (nabiximols) - another plant-derived cannabis-based medicine.

Medicinal cannabis has been legal in the United Kingdom since 2018, but there have been reports it is hard to access and doctors are reluctant to prescribe it, citing lack of clear guidance.

Nonetheless, many have been reluctant to take action, citing a scarcity of steerage and costing considerations.

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This time around, NICE backed it to treat seizures associated with Lennox Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.

The new NICE guidelines say the medicines based on the delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol and marketed as Sativex or under the generic term nabilone may also be issued to patients suffering chemotherapy-induced nausea, although treatment-resistant epilepsy and some of the more extreme multiple sclerosis cases are the main anticipated use area.

The campaign group, End Our Pain, said the new guidelines were a "massive missed opportunity".

"It is this kind of whole plant extract that has been shown to be life-transforming for a significant number of children". This is proof that cannabis-based medicines can successfully go through extensive randomised placebo-controlled trials and a rigorous NICE evaluation process to reach patients.

"This restrictive guidance is condemning many patients to having to pay for life-transforming medicine privately, to go without or to consider accessing illegal and unregulated sources", Hinton said.

'These guidelines are an important first step, but don't go far enough.

Genevieve Edwards, the director of external affairs at the MS Society, told the Guardian this limitation means NICE's recommendations, while "brilliant", fell short.

However, the final guidance has now said that, following a four-week trial, patients should be continued on the treatment if they experience "at least a 20% reduction in spasticity-related symptoms".

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