House of Commons Library

Medical use of cannabis

Published Thursday, June 28, 2018

This briefing provides a short overview of the control of cannabis in the UK, and information about the recently announced review on the medical use of cannabis.

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Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it is illegal to possess, supply, produce, or import/export cannabis in the UK. Whilst some controlled drugs, such as morphine, can be prescribed for legitimate medical use under the conditions of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, cannabis is listed under Schedule 1 of these regulations which generally applies to drugs that have been deemed to have no therapeutic value and as such, it cannot be legally prescribed by a medical practitioner.

The case of two young boys with severe forms of epilepsy has led to recent Parliamentary debate about the medical use of cannabis. Both Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell have experienced an improvement in symptoms from using cannabis oil outside of the UK, and their parents and supporters have been campaigning for access to these products in the UK.

In early June 2018, Billy’s mother, Charlotte Caldwell, was prevented from bringing medical cannabis from Canada into the UK at Heathrow Airport. However, following Billy’s admission to hospital in London on 15 June , the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, issued an emergency licence to allow the medical team to access medicinal cannabis to treat him. Alfie Dingley has also been granted a licence to use medicinal cannabis.

On 19 June 2018, the Home Secretary expressed sympathy for the families in these cases, and said that the position in the UK on this issue was not satisfactory. He announced that the Government would undertake a review of the scheduling of cannabis. This review will be in two parts:

  • Part one will led by the Chief Medical officer, Professor Sally Davies and will review the evidence on the use of cannabis-based medicines; and
  • Part two will be led by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and will look at the balance of harms and the public health needs of using these products and advise the Government on what, if anything should be rescheduled.

On 27 June, the Home Office reported that the Home Secretary had received part one of the review, and that he would commission part two of the review within the next few days.

In the short term, the Home Secretary announced that an expert panel will provide advice to Ministers on applications for licences for the medical use of cannabis.

This briefing provides a short overview of the control of cannabis in the UK, and information about the recently announced review.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8355

Author: Sarah Barber

Topics: Diseases, Drugs crimes, Health services, Health staff and professions, Medicine

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