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Cannabis In UK Legalization Angers Waiting Patients

Jessica McKeil
cannabis, medical cannabis, cannabis in the UK, seizures, epilepsy, prescriptions, NHS, Billy Caldwell, cannabis oil

Medical cannabis is now legal in the UK, for a narrow set of conditions, but you wouldn’t know it.

Supposedly it’s legal to consume medicinal cannabis in the United Kingdom. As of November 2018, Westminster lawmakers amended the cannabis legislation to allow patients, under certain circumstances, to legally access the formerly classified drug. The legislative change was prompted by patients like Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley. Both children demonstrated how cannabis can drastically improve the quality of life when pharmaceuticals failed. Yet, Brits have quickly learned that acquiring a prescription is no walk in the park

So what gives? Why is there still so much frustration among patients seeking cannabis in the UK? Well, legalization has failed to materialize in ways that matter. The NHS has only issued a handful of prescriptions (at best) since November. There are even fewer prescriptions actually filled. Billy Caldwell, the face of the British pro-cannabis campaign, should have been the first patient on the list – but as the world just found out, he has been denied his medicine once again.

What the heck is going on with cannabis in the UK? Real legalization still seems so far away, especially for those who need it most.

cannabis, medical cannabis, cannabis in the UK, seizures, epilepsy, prescriptions, NHS, Billy Caldwell, cannabis oil

Via Belfast Telegraph; Charlotte Caldwell giving cannabis oil to her son, Billy.

Brave Billy Caldwell’s Story

Billy Caldwell’s mother, Charlotte Caldwell, has been a long time activist for cannabis in the UK. Billy is her 13-year-old son, who has a form of severe drug-resistant epilepsy and autism. In the worst times, he experiences upwards of 100 seizures a day, which has often landed him in critical care.

Only a few years ago, his mother pursued cannabis and cannabinoid therapy as a last-ditch effort to save her son’s life. It worked. His seizures disappeared almost completely with daily doses of CBD. The transformation with CBD therapy is so spectacular that the NHS allowed Billy an exemption a few years ago, to circumvent the strict anti-cannabis laws. 

Once his pass expired, his mother continued to seek CBD through international sources. She flew to places like Canada to find CBD extracts and carried them home. In the summer of 2018, agents at Heathrow airport confiscated her six month supply of hemp oil. A few days later, Billy was back in critical care after his seizures returned in full force.

Charlotte refused to give up the fight. She tirelessly made the rounds of national media and within national political debates. Her dedication paid off. In November of last year, lawmakers opened up the strict anti-cannabis laws in the UK. 

So, What’s the Hold up with Cannabis in the UK?

After six months of legalization, British patients are still drowning in a bureaucratic mess. Nobody can put their finger on a single issue; instead, there is a web of obstacles. The UK media has covered stories of patients having their prescriptions revoked or outright denied. Others are being denied care because of their consumption. Physicians are also struggling because of lack of cannabis knowledge. Some are adamantly against it.

cannabis, medical cannabis, cannabis in the UK, seizures, epilepsy, prescriptions, NHS, Billy Caldwell, cannabis oil

The guidelines that physicians received upon legalization seem riddled with holes. UK doctors, according to a recent report, are frustrated about the lack of clinical data on cannabis. As a final kick in the teeth, pharmacies don’t seem to stock cannabis products or have the capability to import it from cultivators.

Legalized cannabis in the UK is at a stand-still. There is a lack of knowledge, a lack of formal guideline, and a lack of supply. It’s an especially frustrating quagmire for patients like Billy and his mother. They have been fighting this battle for years. Just as soon as they thought it was over, they have had to begin all over again.

What Billy Caldwell’s Story Tell Us About Cannabis in the UK

While Caldwell’s appeals to the UK public was a leading motivation for the November change, some suspect the decision came too swiftly. Laws of this nature can take years to craft and carefully flush out into a detailed and nuanced scope of work. Instead, the guidelines were drafted in a short few months.

Medical associations became increasingly nervous about the quickly written guidelines. British Paediatric Neurology Association, Royal Derby Hospital, and other organizations linked to the NHS, all currently advise against cannabis prescriptions. In their eyes, their members don’t have access to enough clinical data and, therefore, can’t make a final call on whether cannabis would benefit the patient.

The latest news about Billy is that his prescription has once again been denied. Although he checks all the right medical boxes and is arguably the ideal candidate for treatment, his mother is again pleading to have consistent access to life-saving cannabis therapy.

She reportedly spent every waking second during her most recent visit to Canada sourcing a UK-based prescription for her son. On their return to the UK, she found out they had revoked the order due to new guidelines put forth by the British Paediatric Neurology Association. According to the Association’s recently issued guidelines, cannabis is not an approved drug. Therefore, no matter the need, their doctors cannot legally prescribe it. Once again, Billy is in medical danger.

cannabis, medical cannabis, cannabis in the UK, seizures, epilepsy, prescriptions, NHS, Billy Caldwell, cannabis oil

What We Need to Move Forward

As the UK struggles through its first year of supposedly legal medicinal cannabis, patients can only hold out hope for the future. Part of the solution must be knowledge, showing physicians how to prescribe and under what scientific evidence. Another element is solving the supply – pharmacies must have easy access to high-quality supply to fill prescriptions. A final aspect of legal cannabis in the UK is demonstrating the good it can do through stories like Billy’s.

Despite the turmoil in the UK, let’s leave this on a positive note. Billy’s mother has witnessed a world of difference in her son while he’s using CBD therapy. She said in a recent interview, “His seizures are much more controlled; he’ll make eye contact, he’ll now initiate a hug. The first day he put his arms around me, it was really, really emotional. One day last week, he managed to walk down the stairs holding on to the rail for the first time – he used to sit on his bum and shuffle down. He’s taking more interest in his toys and books, and becoming more mischievous by the day, which is the way it should be.” This, at the very least, is a positive step forward.


Jessica McKeil
Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

1 Comment
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    Wendy Goodwin

    So many important facts missing:-
    Endocannabinoid System(ECS) NOT on the National Curriculum so the public have no knowledge to make informed choices about their future medical health care.
    The fact that isolate GW’s isolate Epidiolex needs THC in whole plant extract as the latest research out of Israel.
    The fact that the U.K. government asked GW in 1989 to make a cannabis drug for MS so they have been lying to the public about the therapeutic value .
    The fact that GW/U.K. act like a drug cartel not allowing others to grow cannabis so they can push their prices up.
    That the UK is the biggest exporter of cannabis in the world but we have to import any we need from Holland.
    I could go on a lot more but I just want to see decriminalisation of cannabis and the stigma of cannabis that we can laugh at.
    I want the government to be honest and retrain MP’s,NICE,CCG’s,GP’s and the public. Let us use what we need.

    November 17, 2019 at 2:49 am Reply

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