Still no medical cannabis trial for NHS – five years after legalization | UK News


Five years after medical cannabis was legalised, the Government has still not funded clinical trials that could see it used on the NHS, Sky News has been told.

The Ministry of the Interior reclassified the drug in 2018 to allow specialist doctors to prescribe the drug under strict control.

But a year later, NHS watchdog NICE warned doctors not to prescribe the drug to the eight million chronic pain patients because it said there were not enough good quality clinical trials.

Despite the evidence gap, the National Institute for Health Research has now revealed that it has not funded any studies into the safety and efficacy of hashish since the law was changed.

This means that legalization has not made much difference to patients who cannot afford a private prescription.

Chad Martin pays a clinic around £300 a month for a supply of medical cannabis to ease the pain from arthritis in his hands.

He told Sky News: “I’m lucky to be able to afford the drug. Others can’t.”

He had been offered opioid painkillers by his GP but declined the treatment because they can be addictive and have serious side effects.

Since he started using cannabis in a metered dose inhaler, the pain and inflammation in his hands has decreased and he has returned to work.

“It’s actually been really good,” he said.

“When the weather changes, arthritis can affect you regardless, but cannabis has worked much better than anything I’ve taken in the past.”

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He said getting it prescribed gave him more confidence in what he was taking than buying it illegally on the street.

Not all patients respond so well to the drug. And the Home Office warns that regular use of cannabis can lead to addiction and mental health problems.

To try to provide more robust evidence for the use of the drug, Celadon Pharmaceuticals is now starting the first clinical trial of its kind with 5,000 patients with chronic pain.

It grows cannabis plants in special chambers where light, humidity, temperature and nutrients can be precisely controlled to produce flower buds that contain predictable amounts of active substances.

Unlike other cannabis medicinals, Celadon’s plants contain the psychoactive chemical THC, though at levels too low to cause a high.

James Short, the company’s co-founder, said of all the companies he had created in his career, Celadon had been the most difficult.

“We are a pharmaceutical company, not a cannabis company,” he said.

“We have to try to get away from the stigma. When I first got involved in the business, I was nervous to even talk about it with friends.

“But our job is not to get people high. It’s to give them a better quality of life.”

Medical cannabis is still controlled by the Home Office as a narcotic.

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But in order for it to be prescribed, it must also be regulated as a drug.

“It’s been difficult to get them to work together because the regulation wasn’t really incorporated,” Mr Short said.

As part of the trial, patients are given ground cannabis buds in a special inhaler that only dispenses the prescribed dose.

The trial has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the NHS Research Ethics Committee.

The approval followed a preliminary study of 500 patients, which showed that cannabis reduced the need for opioid painkillers and improved sleep.

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But it is far from clear whether even the larger trial will convince medical authorities.

Dr. Alan Fayaz, an NHS consultant and a spokesman for the British Pain Society, said there is plenty of evidence from real-world patients that cannabis works, but doctors are right to be cautious.

“In the wake of what happened with opioids, the medical community is understandably a bit skeptical about introducing a new drug without really robust evidence,” he said.

“The opioid epidemic may have done cannabis a bit of a disservice because it’s tainted soil.”

He said it had been harmful to change the law before there was good clinical evidence of benefits and safety.

“It creates this bizarre two-tier system which doesn’t really benefit patients on the NHS, and it doesn’t really benefit patients in the private sector either.

“I think what we need is the research to be able to identify the role that cannabis will play.”

The Home Office said it had asked its expert advisers to assess whether there are any barriers to carrying out research into the medical effects of cannabis.


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