Two cannabis-based medicines, Sativex and Epidyolex, which are used for conditions such as epilepsy and Multiple Sclerosis, have been approved for prescription on the NHS.
The news follows new guidelines which were issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on Monday morning.
It means patients with MS and intractable epilepsy will have easier access to cannabis-based treatments, which patient advocacy groups have long been lobbying for.
Specialist doctors in the UK will be able to prescribe Epidyolex in cases of children with two types of severe epilepsy – Lennox Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Both conditions are known to cause several seizures a day.
Epidyolex was approved for use in Europe earlier this year but NICE said it was not a cost effective treatment.
Sativex, an oral spray, was previously made available in the UK for treatment of MS, but it was only available through an expensive private prescription, limiting access.
These latest guidelines from the drug advisory board recommend further clinical research is required into cannabis-based medical products.
In August, the organisation said it was ‘unable’ to recommend such medicines due to a lack of ‘clear evidence’.
The initial report in the summer said:
“The committee were unable to make a recommendation about the use of cannabis-based medicines for severe treatment-resistant epilepsy because there was a lack of clear evidence that these treatments provide any benefits.”
Since then NICE have conducted a series of trials regarding cannabis-based medicinal products.
This development, which comes one year and 10 days after medical cannabis was legalised in the UK, will enable greater access to Sativex and Epidyolex, reaching people who could not afford the cost of private treatment.
The introduction of both medicines by the NHS also has the potential to lessen the burden on the national public health purse.
The report goes on to say:
“If symptoms are reduced with the use of cannabis-based medicinal products this may ultimately reduce the cost of other treatment for these patients, either through primary care or urgent care services.”
NICE, a non-departmental public body which publishes advice for the NHS, is in the process of developing guidance on the use of CBD and Clobazam, another drug which is said to be effective for treating seizures associated with severe types of epilepsy, which are thought to affect more than 3,000 people in England alone.
That news is expected to be published on December 18.