United Kingdom Approves Medicinal Marijuana

The U.K. has announced that it will allow doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana beginning in the fall. Research indicates that the drug, and products derived from it, could be used to treat diseases and symptoms including epilepsy, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Recreational use will continue to be prohibited in the country.

In announcing the decision, Home Secretary Sajid Javid referenced a 12-year-old patient with severe epilepsy who had been denied treatment with cannabis oil. “Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory,” Mr. Javid said.

While more research is needed on the risks of cannabis use, health-care providers worry patients will seek out the drug on their own without speaking to their physician. In an interview with ASH Clinical News in 2017, Steven Pergam, MD, MPH, of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, spoke of the need to be honest with patients about the potential risks and benefits of marijuana.

“If we’re not asking questions about cannabis use, then we’re doing a disservice to them,” Dr. Pergam said. “Even though we don’t always know the best answer, having that discussion allows it to be a shared decision.”

The U.K.’s policy change follows a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June to approve the first marijuana-derived drug for medical use in the U.S. Several other countries already allow doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana.

Sources: ASH Clinical News, December 1, 2017; Reuters, July 26, 2018.