The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has backed the decision to decriminalise medicinal cannabis, in the wake of growing evidence of its clinical benefits.
Home secretary, Sajid Javid, has been advised by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs of its therapeutic uses and doctors will be able to prescribe it by autumn.
Following a consultation, the RCN has found that members were ‘overwhelmingly’ in favour of the move.
‘This is a very welcome move. RCN members voted to campaign on this issue because they were worried that vulnerable patients are being forced to self-medicate or medicate their children from sources that aren’t necessarily safe,’ said Donna Kinnair, RCN director of nursing, policy and practice.
‘We now look forward to working with the DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) on defining which conditions the medicinal form of the drug can be used to treat, and on guidance for prescribing treatment.’
Medicinal cannabis was made illegal in 1971, however, this has been overturned following two high-profile cases in the media involving severely epileptic children, Billy Cladwell and Alfie Dingley, who had previously been denied access to cannabis oil.
‘Recent cases involving sick children made it clear to me that our position on cannabis-related medicinal products was not satisfactory,’ said Mr Javid.
‘That is why we launched a review and set up an expert panel to advise on licence applications in exceptional circumstances. This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.’
The health benefits of cannabis are still being researched – only this week, an article in the journal Oncogene has found that a substance found within the drug could improve the effects of pancreatic cancer treatments.
Cannabidoil (CBD) is derived from hemp plants and was researched in mice – findings suggest that it can boost cancer drug effectiveness for a condition with fairly negative prognosis as around 80% of those living with pancreatic cancer die within a year of diagnosis.
However, the study involved a small sample size of mice and its findings are yet to be seen in humans.
‘We don’t advise patients to use cannabis oil or any alternative therapies to treat cancer,’ said Catherine Pickworth, science communications officer at Cancer Research UK.
‘Some ‘natural’ remedies can interfere with medical treatment, so it’s really important that patients speak to their doctor before making any decisions.’
Prior to this decision, cannabis was classed as a Schedule 1 drug – meaning it had no therapeutic value – but now cannabis products will be categorised as Schedule 2, recognising their potential medical use. Cocaine and heroin are also in Schedule 2.
‘The rescheduling of cannabis-derived medicinal products is a devolved matter and requires legislative change. The Department of Health notes the advice provided by experts during the two-part review commissioned by the Home Secretary,’ said a Department of Health spokesperson.
‘Consideration will be given to rescheduling cannabis-derived medicinal products in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.’