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Medical Cannabis legal but only in very restricted cases | Gill Smith

9 Nov 2018

This week Gill Smith, stage 4 secondary breast cancer survivor and author of Because You Can, discusses the recent change in the law of medical cannabis in the UK…

On 1st November the law changed to allow the prescribing of medical cannabis. What will this mean in practice?

What is clear today is that the use of medical cannabis will be extremely limited.

From The Times

Doctors advised to refuse cannabis for MS sufferers

Thousands of people with multiple sclerosis will be denied cannabis medicines despite the drug being legally available for the first time today on the NHS.

Guidelines issued to doctors said that cannabis-based medicines were “not recommended” for chronic pain sufferers such as people with MS.

The MS Society condemned the guidance for being too “restrictive” and “ignoring clear evidence”. Genevieve Edwards, of the charity, said: “Today should mark a key milestone for people with MS.

However, we’re really concerned that nothing will change in the short term for the one in ten people with MS who could get relief from pain and muscle spasms by using medicinal cannabis.


As of 1st November cannabis-based products can be prescribed, but only by specialist hospital doctors in a small number of cases, and not by GPs.

New NHS guidance for doctors in England says it should be prescribed only when there is clear published evidence of its benefit and other treatment options have been exhausted.

The treatments can be prescribed in cases of:

  • Children with rare, severe forms of epilepsy
  • Adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy
  • Adults with muscle stiffness caused by multiple sclerosis


If a patient is not already in touch with a specialist doctor they can be referred to one by their GP if the doctor deems this appropriate.

I wonder who these specialist doctors are? How many? Will medical cannabis be approved for a wider range of conditions in future.

Again, it comes down to what is accepted as evidence of benefit. Thousands of patients in the UK and other countries can provide testimony of how cannabis has helped them. But these are not clinical trials. For cancer the only allowable treatment is for vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy – but there is plenty of “evidence” to show that patients have benefitted in wider use. Similarly pain relief for other conditions. And what about Parkinson’s?

It seems that in the UK medical cannabis will be so tightly controlled that thousands of patients will be disappointed by not being able to access it.

Gill has published a book, Because You Can, which you can purchase here. Learn more here.

If you have any questions around medical cannabis, we are running a talk on 20th November in Nottingham. Find out more here.