Patients in the UK will be able to get prescriptions for medicinal cannabis “in days rather than months” after import restrictions on the substance were changed.

Licensed sellers will now be able to import larger quantities of cannabis-based products, and hold supplies for future use by patients with a prescription.

This means patients with conditions such as rare, serious forms of epilepsy or multiple sclerosis (MS) will have faster access to uninterrupted treatment.

These new measures were implemented by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and the Home Office on March 2.

UK health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Every time I meet the families of young people dealing so bravely with childhood epilepsy, I am reminded of just how much they have been through.

“The changes made today are a tremendous step towards improving the supply of cannabis-based medicinal products by helping to ensure quicker and more reliable access for patients.

“But we still have a long way to go. We need more research into the quality and safety of these medicines, and to do all we can to cut down the costs and remove barriers so that, when appropriate, patients can access it, including on the NHS.”


Medicinal cannabis in the UK

In the UK, most cannabis-based prescription medicines are imported from foreign countries — but export restrictions mean it can take weeks or months for the drugs to reach the patients.

Safeguards against addiction and drug misuse mean that patients with prescriptions for unlicensed medicines, such as medicinal cannabis, need to have their prescriptions reviewed every 30 days by specialist doctors as well.

In October 2018, then-UK home secretary Sajid Javid passed a law allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis-based products for clinical use in treating severe epilepsy in children, among other neurological conditions.

In November 2019, UK-based public body NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommended two cannabis-based medicinal products for patients with multiple sclerosis and hard-to-treat forms of epilepsy.

medicinal cannabis matt hancock
UK health and social care secretary Matt Hancock

And today, the government said its department of health and social care continues to work with the healthcare industry to explore more ways to reduce costs and encourage more research into uninterrupted access to cannabis-based medicines.

Following yesterday’s import laws changes, UK home secretary Priti Patel said: “I have taken swift action to allow specialist doctors to issue prescriptions for cannabis-based medicinal products, when they consider their patients would benefit from this treatment.

“This will allow patients and their families with challenging conditions to access them more easily, when appropriate, to ensure they can be treated in days, not months.”