Cannabis-based medical treatments will soon be available within the National Health Service in both England and Wales following a landmark decision this week.
In the guidelines published Monday, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence outlined the circumstances under which such treatment would be appropriate, including childhood epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced vomiting and nausea.
The institute, a public body that provides guidance on health care matters in the United Kingdom, said that the initial cannabis prescription “must be made by a specialist medical practitioner,” and that the specialist “should also have a special interest in the condition being treated.” For children, “the initiating prescriber should also be a tertiary [pediatric] specialist,” the institute said.
The guidelines represent a milestone for Britain, where laws governing pot use are stricter than other countries in Europe, and where medical cannabis has been slow to roll out.
Turning a New Leaf
But attitudes are changing quickly among UK policymakers. British home secretary Sajid Javid said last year that physicians in the UK would be able to prescribe medical marijuana for patients, a decision that came after a long-running campaign inspired by two high-profile cases involving children who suffer from a form of epilepsy that is mitigated by the use of cannabis oil.
One such case centered around Billy Caldwell, a 12-year-old suffering from life-threatening seizures who had his medicinal marijuana confiscated at Heathrow Airport in 2018.
“Having been moved by heartbreaking cases involving sick children, it was important to me that we took swift action to help those who can benefit from medicinal cannabis,” Javid said last year.
But the treatment remained painfully elusive in the UK, and the rollout has been a slow-go, making the guidelines this week from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence a watershed moment for the new policy.
Charlotte Caldwell, the mother of Billy, told Sky News on Monday that it was “an incredible day for the UK.”
The New York Times reported that the “that the recommendations [from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] could immediately be applied for England and Wales, with Northern Ireland expected to consider use on a case-by-case basis,” while they will not apply at all to Scotland, which has its own health care body.
A growing chorus of British lawmakers would like to go even further and make recreational marijuana use legal, as well. Several members of UK parliament (MPs) made an exploratory visit this summer to Canada, where pot has been legal for a little more than a year, and returned motivated to end prohibition in Britain.