Is medical cannabis legal in the UK?

Patients can be prescribed medicinal cannabis by specialist doctors in the UK as of November 2018.

It is the first time UK medical experts have had the option to legally issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicines if they think it could help their patient.

Before the ruling, almost all cannabis-based medicinal products were judged to have no therapeutic value. 

The law change came soon after the highly-publicised case of severely epileptic teenager Billy Caldwell.

The boy fell ill when the UK Home Office confiscated cannabis oil he had been prescribed abroad.

His mother said his condition improved thanks to cannabis oil treatments.

Cannabis oil should not be confused with CBD oil. Cannabis oil is not usually allowed in the UK because it has a higher amount of THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid that gets users high).

In Summer 2018 Home Secretary Sajid Javid called for a review of cannabis-based medicines and accepted the subsequent recommendations from UK medical experts.

GPs cannot make the decision to prescribe these unlicensed medicines – only specialist doctors in fields like neurology or paediatrics.

They must make decisions on prescribing cannabis-based products for medicinal use on a case-by-case basis, and only when the patient has a special clinical need that is not met by licensed products.

The new law will not limit the types of conditions that can be considered for treatment and doctors will no longer need to seek approval from an expert panel for patients to access the medicines.

Researchers have found that medical marijuana is effective for pain control and conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and interstitial cystitis.

Announcing the law change, Mr Javid said: “Having been moved by heart-breaking cases involving sick children, it was important to me that we took swift action to help those who can benefit from medicinal cannabis.

“We have now delivered on our promise and specialist doctors will have the option to prescribe these products where there is a real need.”

The Home Secretary says the law change does not pave the way towards legalising cannabis for recreational use, adding the penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will not change.

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