The UK government has said last week that it plans to install a panel of experts to advise ministers on a case-by-case basis for administering medical cannabis treatments. The panel will consist of healthcare professionals knowledgeable about medicinal products such as cannabis oil, which has been the source of controversy in recent weeks.
The decision was made after a protracted row over cannabis oil confiscated at Heathrow from the mother of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. According to his mother, Caldwell relies on the oil to remain seizure-free, and his condition rapidly deteriorated after the nearly six-month supply was seized.
Although Home Secretary Sajid Javid eventually stepped in to provide the Caldwell family with a 20-day cannabis oil license for their son, the long-term fate of the substance remains uncertain. However, the growing conversation surrounding cannabis-based medicines and their potential benefits has been encouraging.
A number of government officials from all sides are calling for reform. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott voiced Labour’s support for the use of cannabis oil for medical purposes.
“A number of recent heart breaking cases have highlighted a failure of Government policy,” she said. “Children have been put at risk and experienced extraordinary suffering because this Government drags its heels and refuses to grant cannabis oil licenses."
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt also expressed support for legalizing cannabis oil and asked the government to review the current laws. Prime Minister May, however, did not share Hunt’s enthusiasm and appeared reluctant to acknowledge any such review was going forward.
“I think what needs to drive us in all of these cases is actually what clinicians are saying about these issues,” she said.
Many clinicians do in fact support products containing both THC and CBD – the two most active compounds in cannabis – for treating epilepsy and other illnesses that cause seizures. Epilepsia Open, research journal of the International League Against Epilepsy, published a paper in 2016 that links reduced seizures in patients to the presence of THC, CBD, and CBDV in the bloodstream.
The new advisory board is a step in the right direction for patients who rely on cannabis oil products, which often contain a mixture of both THC and CBD. Though the panel will only approve patients on an individual basis, it could be a catalyst for broader reforms going forward.