• The UK Government currently provides the funding for clinical trials on medical cannabis
  • England’s chief medical officer told MPs that the private sector should be paying their fair share
  • Only 80 patients have been prescribed CBD on the NHS so far
  • Only patients with a private prescription have been able to acquire medical cannabis containing THC

Britain’s chief medical officer (CMO), Dame Sally Davies, has told MPs that the pharmaceutical industry must begin funding randomised controlled trials for medical cannabis as soon as possible.

Speaking to the Health and Social Select Committee on Wednesday, Dame Sally believes funding from the pharmaceutical industry is essential for improving access to medical cannabis prescriptions, which have so far been limited by a perceived lack of clinical evidence.

Dame Sally explained to MPs that the public sector is picking up the slack left behind by the private sector;

“[Clinical trials] would normally be funded by the industry.

“I think it is time that the industry started to say what it’s going to do about funding trials to get the licences so patients can have access.

“This can’t be just left to the public sector.”

Dame Sally told the committee that she believes that these kind of trials are the only way to get medical cannabis licensed in the UK, but added that the process should begin “as fast as we can,” explaining that the trials could end early if strong evidence is produced.

Alette Addison, head of pharmacy and regulation at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), explained that the lack of clinical trials conducted in the UK, and the consequential lack of evidence, is the primary reason why so few British patients have managed to acquire a medical cannabis prescription:

“Doctors are only going to be confident prescribing if they have the evidence base to do so. And it’s just not there at the moment.

“Our difficulty is that the evidence for adding THC to CBD, and whether that makes any difference, doesn’t exist at the moment.

“That’s what we need the trials for”.

Campaigners and experts, however, expressed concerns that while clinical trials are fantastic conductors of validity for the use of medical cannabis, they still have flaws.

Peter Carroll, Head of End Our Pain, a medical cannabis campaign group, told the committee that despite clinical trials being “the gold standard” for evidence, “we have to take a broader view of evidence.”

There already exists a wealth of anecdotal evidence and case studies which show that adding THC to CBD improves results for treating epileptic seizures.

“There is a point where multiple anecdotal stories do actually build up to a pattern of evidence,” Carroll added.

Doctors are only going to be confident prescribing if they have the evidence base to do so. And it’s just not there at the moment.
– Alette Addison, head of pharmacy and regulation at the Department of Health and Social Care

Mike Barnes, chair of the newly founded Medical Cannabis Clinicians’ Society and professor of Neurology, explained to the committee that observational trial data should be taken into account:

“I agree, totally, that we need RCTs, but it would be very difficult to conduct those studies,” adding that from his research, different patients require different levels of THC.

The committee seemed relaxed about the slow speed of progress and minimal number of prescriptions provided to patients.

Addison said that she was not surprised by the small number of prescriptions issued since cannabis was legalised for medicinal use on 1 November 2018, citing other countries which have provided their citizens with access to medical cannabis:

“When we look at the experience of other countries, it is a very slow start and it does build.”

second evidence session is due to be held on 26 March 2019.

It remains to be seen whether this will lead to more patients being prescribed with the medication they have a right to.

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