Medicinal marijuana has been prescribed on the NHS to an 11-year-old boy in what is believed to be the first case of its kind.
Billy Caldwell had been travelling to the USA to get the medication for help to treat his epilepsy which at its worst saw him suffer up to 100 life-threatening fits a day.
But when his supply of cannabis oil was about to run out and he was unable to make the return trip to Los Angeles, his mother Charlotte took him to see his local GP in desperation.
Dr Brendan O’Hare, realising the “unique and unusual” situation, opted to prescribe him the CBD oil - a derivative of cannabis containing the component cannabidiol which under MHRA guidelines doctors are allowed to prescribe.
It doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol - or THC - which is the psychoactive component of cannabis and is illegal in the UK under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
As a result of the prescription, which could open doors to all patients and GPs who believe in the virtues of medicinal marijuana, Ms Caldwell, who is 49 and is Billy’s full time carer, was able to collect it from her local pharmacy.
— Barry McElduff MLA (@BarryMcElduff) April 19, 2017
Last year, the MHRA issued guidelines stating the products containing cannabidiol can be used for medical purposes, provided they are legally sold and meet safety standards, a spokesman said.
Because CBD oil is legal in the UK, a doctor can give a "special" prescription for it to be manufactured or imported to the order.
Ms Caldwell, who lives with her son in Castlederg in Northern Ireland, said: “With just a few days’ doses of Billy's US medication left, I was getting desperate.
"In the end I called my GP and gave him all our paperwork and he said he'd prescribe the medicinal cannabis for Billy and that's exactly what he has done.
"We went down to our surgery and picked it up. It was as simple as that.”
Ms Caldwell, who has long campaigned for children to be given access to the treatment, added: “It’s a huge step forward. It’s an alternative treatment and it’s worked out well for Billy.”
The 11-year-old had a lesion in his left temple, which had brought back his seizures after eight years in remission, and the oil was helping to reduce the damage caused by it and had stopped his seizures for three months.
Dr O’Hare said: “This is a unique and unusual situation."
He said he supplied a prescription and a letter as there was a “crisis” facing Billy, adding: “Whatever the rights and wrongs, we had a child here who had benefitted and the child’s welfare was paramount. On that basis I issued a prescription and letter.
“It bides us some time so our authorities can properly consider this. This was not to open the floodgates for others, it is a one off special case.”
MPs and drugs policy reform groups hailed the success of Billy’s treatment, hinting it could open doors to other patients around the UK,
Norman Lamb MP, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman, said: “It’s wonderful that Billy has been helped in this way with what is potentially life-saving treatment.
“I don’t think anyone seriously argues against him getting access to treatment that has had such a dramatic impact on his life.
“There is no logic in denying it to others if it can be equally effective. There’s lots of evidence, particularly in conditions involving lots of pain, that medical cannabis can be extraordinarily powerful and effective.
“We ought not to deny people access to a treatment that can be medically and clinically effective.”
The medication was supplied by GreenLight Medicines in Ireland, which is working to bring medicinal marijuana to the market.