Large-scale clinical trials of medical cannabis in the UK will begin “as soon as possible”, the Department of Health and Social Care has said. the National Institute for Health Research of the UK government will oversee studies that will look at the effects of cannabis on people with epilepsy.
Britain’s NHS currently only prescribes cannabis-based medicines as a last resort and says “very few people in England are likely to get a prescription” for the substance.
But some people with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or chemotherapy would like to be prescribed cannabis to help with pain and nausea.
Cannabis is not prescribed for epilepsy as the NHS commissioning body, NICE, judges that there is not “sufficient evidence” to recommend the full use of cannabis, but that the medicine can always be considered by doctors if it is “clinically appropriate in an individual case”.
The UK government therefore supported the creation of two large-scale randomized controlled trials to provide evidence to NICE. The details of these trials are still being finalized.
“Families across the UK are desperately waiting for these medical cannabis trials to begin. We have seen the huge impact these treatments can have and how they can bring people back to life,” said Christine Jardine, a British MP who has already tabled a private member’s bill to legalize medical cannabis.
“The government has dragged its feet for too long on this. It is welcome that trials are planned, but they need to start immediately – so that we can start rolling out these treatments as soon as possible. »
Health Minister Maria Caulfield said: “The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) considered the best available evidence when developing its guidance on the prescription of herbal medicinal products. cannabis”.
“However, NICE found that current research is limited and of low quality. Observational studies with small numbers of patients do not produce results robust enough to inform routine clinical or commissioning decisions. »
“To build evidence on medical cannabis, the Department, through the National Institute for Health Research, will support two randomized controlled trials in epilepsy in adults and children. »
“Trials will begin as soon as possible and results will be published once they are complete and the findings have been peer reviewed. »