Medicinal cannabis products are now available in Northern Ireland

Relaxation of regulations follows a high-profile campaign on the issue

An employee manually trims medical cannabis plants in Ontario, Canada. File photograph: James MacDonald/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An employee manually trims medical cannabis plants in Ontario, Canada. File photograph: James MacDonald/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

Cannabis-based medicinal products are available in Northern Ireland from today.

The products can only be obtained if they have been prescribed by a specialist hospital doctor.

The department of health said patients must have unmet clinical needs to be prescribed the products.

The move follows a high-profile campaign for the relaxation of regulations on cannabis-based products for medicinal use, which included the case of Billy Caldwell (13), of Castlederg, Co Tyrone.

Earlier this year, Billy received national attention when his medicinal cannabis was confiscated by the Home Office after a trip to Canada to access the medication.

Billy suffers from a severe form of epilepsy and his mother Charlotte says medicinal cannabis products help to ease his symptoms. She had spent years campaigning for the law change.

In early October, British home secretary Sajid Javid announced a decision to relax the rules on the circumstances in which medicinal cannabis products can be given to patients, after considering expert advice from a specially commissioned review.

In a statement, the department of health said: “It is important that prescribing decisions are taken by expert clinicians informed by evidence on quality, safety and effectiveness.

“Therefore, prescribing of cannabis-based products for medicinal use is restricted to clinicians listed on the specialist register of the General Medical Council.

“Cannabis-based products for medicinal use will not be available from general practitioners.”

Recreational use

The department added: “It is important to note that the rescheduling of cannabis-based products for medicinal use does not pave the way towards legalising cannabis for recreational use.

“The penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged.”

Epilepsy Action deputy chief executive Simon Wigglesworth welcomed the move but said the current guidance “seems extremely restrictive”.

“Today’s change in the law should open the door for some children and adults with severe epilepsy to access potentially life-changing treatment,” he said.

“While this change is an important step forward, the guidance we have seen so far on how it will work in practice seems extremely restrictive.

“It suggests that cannabis-based medicines will only be an option for a very limited number of people with epilepsy — children with Dravet or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

“Though this is welcome, there are children and adults with other complex and treatment-resistant epilepsy syndromes who could potentially also benefit.” – PA