House of Lords criticises British Government for failing “desperate” medical cannabis patients

  • Lords slammed the British Government for failing medical cannabis patients 
  • Only four patients have received a prescription for medical cannabis 
  • Some patients are forced to travel abroad for their prescriptions
  • One Lord claimed “majority of terrorists” in the UK are heavy users of cannabis

Members of the House of Lords slammed the British Government yesterday for failing “desperate” patients needing legal access to medical cannabis.

Cross-bencher Baroness Meacher questioned Conservative Peer, Baroness Blackwood, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, about “what steps are [the Government] taking to ensure that patients in need of medicinal cannabis are able to access such treatment on prescription?”

Despite cannabis being legalised for medicinal purposes in November 2018, only a small handful of patients have been able to acquire a prescription. So far, all of the prescriptions given have been private ones, costing tens of thousands of pounds per year, pricing out the most vulnerable patients in British society.

Jorja Emerson, 2, who suffers drug-resistant epilepsy, has to pay £3,000 every three months for her private prescription, leading her father to demand that medical cannabis be available on the NHS.

According to Baroness Meacher, this lack of access may be attributed to the lack of training and awareness British medical professionals have on the medical properties of cannabinoids:

“Doctors have had no training in prescribing cannabis.

“They need to know the contents, dosages, side-effects and everything else about medical cannabis products.

“The pressure on doctors with desperate patients whose standard medications are not working or are causing unacceptable side-effects is intense. Doctors urgently need government help.”

The decision to prescribe medical cannabis lies solely in the hands of doctors who are on the specialist medical register, restricting access to cannabinoid-based medications for patients.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) outlines the process a medical professional must go through to qualify as a  specialist doctor, able to prescribe medical cannabis. In its outline, the MDU explains the limited circumstances in which cannabis can be prescribed:

“Although the drug will be available to certain patients under specific circumstances, it is still for the specialist doctor to decide whether or not it is appropriate to prescribe a cannabis-based product.

“The doctor remains responsible for the prescribing of the drug and the decisions they make.”

If a medical professional has not been trained in medical cannabis, it is more likely they will be hesitant to prescribe a product they have little knowledge about.

Baroness Meacher addressed this issue, suggesting changes in the NHS which could help make medical cannabis more easily available to those who need it most:

“Will the Minister ensure that the medical director of the NHS makes specialist doctors aware of the new guidelines to be launched later this month by the Medical Cannabis Clinicians’ Society, and of the 12-module online training course already available from the Academy of Medical Cannabis?”

Baroness Blackwood replied:

“This is a challenging area, and the evidence base is still developing.”

Labour Peer, Lord Howarth, challenged Baroness Blackwood’s claim that there is still insufficient evidence for using cannabis as a medication, highlighting another issue that the British cannabis policy has caused: medical cannabis refugees.

Lord Howarth discussed how one patient is being forced to fly to Holland every three months for her prescription of Bedrocan, a medical cannabis product which is currently unavailable in the UK:

“Will the Minister comment on the issues illustrated in the predicament of a person who has been prescribed the cannabinoid dronabinol, branded as Bedrocan, which is the only medication that has proved effective for her following the failure of 35 different medications previously prescribed to relieve her chronic pain from cervical and lumbar spondylosis?

“Given that the Chief Medical Officer stated last summer that there is conclusive evidence that cannabis-based products are effective for certain medical conditions, why is this patient still forced to travel to Holland every three months to obtain the medication that her consultant considers essential for her, and why does confusion still reign over licensing procedures?”

Baroness Blackwood seemed to dismiss Lord Howarth’s , claiming that this should not “As far as I can see, there should be no reason for the situation he has outlined.”

Doctors have had no training in prescribing cannabis.”
Baroness Meacher

One of the most bizarre claims made during the questioning was when Labour Peer, Lord West, claimed that cannabis was somehow linked to terrorism, going on to use the derogatory slang-word for cannabis, ‘skunk’:

“The majority of those guilty of violent terrorist crimes in this country are found to be heavy users of cannabis.

“When one looks at violent crime outside of terrorism, it seems again, although I do not know the details, that very often the people involved are heavy users of skunk, not the kind of cannabis that we are talking about but the liquid stuff.

“Are the Government looking at the relationship between the use of these really strong types of cannabis and violent crime, to see whether anything should be done about it?”

It is unclear what evidence the Lord based his claims on, or if he is seriously trying to suggest there is causation between smoking cannabis and wanting to commit unspeakable acts of terror.

There is a possibility Lord West could be referring to when an unnamed ‘friend’ of Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, claimed that Abedi  used to drink, smoke weed then all of a sudden he turned religious and I’ve not seen him since 2012.”

So far, however, there has been no research to determine a true link between smoking cannabis and a desire to commit terrorism.

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in the UK, with 2.4 million adults, (7.2%) of adults aged 16-59 having used it in the last year.

If there were any validity to Lord West’s bizarre claims, there would be more terror attacks in the UK every year.

Baroness Blackwood responded to Lord West’s claim by saying that “the medicines we are speaking about are not skunk.”

The strain of cannabis which GW Pharmaceuticals grows in the UK, however, is literally Skunk #1, meaning that every single patient who has used Sativex has used “skunk.”

Accessibility to medical cannabis in the UK is extremely low. Efforts from members of the British Government, such as Baroness Meacher’s, to fight for more access should be applauded and encouraged.

Patients have a right to medications which have been proven safe and effective by numerous clinical trials and evidence gathered from countries who have legal medical cannabis.

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