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Controlled drugs

Pilot programme could help 20,000 patients receive subsidised medical cannabis

Project Twenty21 says it aims to provide patients with “vital therapy” and build confidence in clinicians prescribing medical cannabis.

Pilot programme could help 20,000 patients receive subsidised medical cannabis

Source: Imagedoc / Alamy Stock Photo

Despite medical cannabis being legalised in 2018, the charity Drug Science says it gets daily requests for help from healthcare professionals who want to prescribe cannabis but are unsure of how to write the prescription

A national pilot could give 20,000 patients in the UK access to subsidised medical cannabis by the end of 2021.

‘Project Twenty21’, developed by the charity Drug Science, will be launched at the Royal College of Psychiatrists on 7 November 2019. The aim of the project is to provide medical cannabis to people who may benefit from taking it.

The pilot will collect data on efficacy, safety, quality-adjusted life years and patient-reported outcomes in those prescribed medical cannabis at private cannabis clinics across the UK.

Data will be collected every three months and will focus on seven indications: chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, substance use disorder and epilepsy. There will be a specific focus on patients for whom alternative treatments have failed.

David Nutt, chair of Drug Science’s scientific committee and former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said the project would “allow patients to get vital therapy without breaking the law”.

“It will also provide a solid clinical database from which experience of — and confidence in — medical cannabis prescribing will develop, providing a foundation for other medical prescribers to build on,” he said.

Chloe Sakal, director of Project Twenty21 and clinical lead at Drug Science, said that one of the purposes of the project was to relieve clinician anxiety around prescribing medical cannabis.

“Medical cannabis has been legal to prescribe for a year now; one of the reasons we’re doing this is to help clinicians feel supported. We get requests from doctors every day saying they want to use it with their patients, but they don’t know how to write the prescription.

“We want them to feel like it’s OK [to prescribe medical cannabis] and that they’re supported [to do so].”

She added that negotiations were ongoing to finalise the extent to which the medicine would be subsidised for patients included in the pilot, but that Drug Science were “working hard to make it affordable”.

In March 2019, Dame Sally Davies, then chief medical officer for England, told a committee of MPs that the pharmaceutical industry should fund randomised controlled trials of medical cannabis, to improve access to drugs for patients.

On 1 November 2019 (one year after medical cannabis was legalised), Jo Churchill, the pharmacy minister, said that the government had “contacted all producers of cannabis-based products known to have an interest in supplying the UK market to encourage and support research applications to develop the evidence base further”.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2019.20207303

Readers' comments (1)

  • So what can be done to keep it a) from becoming monopolized by the big cannaPharma (eg. GW pharmaceuticals).. And where was this concern and care when opioids came on the market. How many trials were scrutinised?? Less than cannabis o assure you because a big pharma co was behind it. And their side effect ..death. cannabis side effect.. very high for a while! Not one death reported.. EVER. Let's stop this silliness. Regulate with some courage and actual concern to patients not getting access

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