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Controlled drugs

Government should stop confiscating prescribed medical cannabis obtained abroad, MPs say

The House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee has said that the “cruel practice” of confiscating cannabis-based medicine that is legally obtained overseas with a UK prescription “must not happen again”.

Customs sign at an airport


Teagan Appleby’s mother had medical cannabis obtained with a UK-issued private prescription confiscated on her return from the Netherlands — something the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee has described as “cruel”

The government should “desist from confiscating prescribed medical cannabis obtained overseas under specialist supervision”, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee has said.

The call was made in a report published on 3 July 2019 on the UK’s medical cannabis policy, which was changed on 1 November 2018 to allow cannabis-based medical products (CBMPs) to be prescribed legally.

“We should not be treating patients, or their families, who are resorting to bringing medication here from abroad because they cannot obtain it on prescription here as if they are committing a criminal offence,” the report says, highlighting the case of Teagan Appleby whose mother had medical cannabis obtained with a UK-issued private prescription confiscated on her return from the Netherlands.

The medicine was ultimately returned to her, but the committee stated in the report that “this cruel practice must not happen again”.

The report also notes that there is no “firm evidence base” for use of CBMPs, noting that research is needed into several conditions, including epilepsy, chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and multiple sclerosis. Developing such an evidence base would, it says, improve doctors’ confidence in CBMPs and hence increase the number of prescriptions, “and also allow the products to be licensed”.

But the report accuses pharmaceutical companies of not engaging with the clinical trials process — arguing that “industry’s lack of engagement is one of the reasons why there is a lack of robust international evidence”.

The MPs recommend that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) investigates cases where pharmaceutical companies have not made their CBMPs available for research, and take “take appropriate action” where necessary.

The DHSC should not, it adds, “be afraid to ‘name and shame’ companies who are not doing all they can to make their products available for research”.

A written parliamentary response from the health minister Seema Kennedy, published on 1 July 2019, revealed that eight NHS prescriptions for unlicensed CBMPs were issued between November 2018 and March 2019.

In the first four months of 2019, Kennedy said, nine private prescriptions were reported to the NHS Business Services Authority and five private prescriptions were reported to have been written in secondary care. 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20206752

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