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Over 80% of pharmacists support reclassifying cannabis for medicinal use

More than 50% of respondents to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society survey strongly agreed that cannabis should be legalised for medicinal use, and a further 30% slightly agreed.

Doctor holding bottle of medical marijuana

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The Misuse of Drugs Act is a piece of legislation which has prevented research into the use of medicinal cannabis

Cannabis should be rescheduled within the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow research to take place, say the vast majority of respondents to a Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) survey.

Cannabis and cannabis-derived products are currently listed under Schedule 1 of the Act, meaning they are considered to have no known medicinal value and cannot legally be purchased or prescribed for medicinal use. Moving cannabis to Schedule 2 would allow for licensed cannabis-based medicines to be prescribed and possessed lawfully by patients with a prescription. It would also enable research into the medicinal properties of cannabis, potentially leading to new cannabis-derived medicinal products.

The RPS carried out a survey and asked pharmacists whether they believed that cannabis should be rescheduled within the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow research to take place. Of 1,690 pharmacists who gave their views, 89.1% agreed with rescheduling and 5.7% disagreed, while 5.2% said they did not know.

“Schedule 1 means that we aren’t really allowed to do proper legal research on useful and potentially life changing compounds”, one responded. “Schedule 1 means that the drug has ‘no medical benefit whatsoever’ - that is not likely to be true for a large number of Schedule 1 drugs.” 

Over 80% of respondents supported legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use. When asked ‘To what extent do you agree that cannabis should be legalised for medicinal use?’, 52.7% of 1,693 respondents said that they strongly agreed with this position, and a further 30.6% slightly agreed. Some respondents said their view would depend on the form and potency of cannabis used.

“There are currently different levels of restriction around opiates and alcohol of differing potencies, and the same must be true for this discussion,” one pharmacist wrote.

Another respondent said: “‘Medicinal use’ is too simplistic — what is meant by use? The question should be ‘a medicinal benefit not provided by any other (safer or better) means’.”

Of those who disagreed with rescheduling, one said they did not agree that the current evidence of clinical and cost effectiveness supported the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Many of those who completed the survey expressed concern about the medicinal use of herbal cannabis because of natural variation in the quality of the raw herb.

“I don’t think that we can verify the safety of herbal and plant-based medications, due to genetic variation and uncontrolled excipients,” said one pharmacist.

“I think that it is fair to ease the Controlled Drug Schedule from 1 to 2 to make the product easier to study in an effort to make a dose-controlled version (whether it is isolated/derived/synthetic or even combination), allowing for consistency in the product.”

The three national pharmacy boards of the RPS have signed a policy statement supporting the rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule 2, which would enable scientific research and clinical trials to take place, and to make cannabis available for medicinal purposes. The policy was submitted to the Home Office for consideration on 20 June 2018.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20205038

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