More cannabis medicines should available for epileptic children, MP says

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A minister was asked if she would administer cannabis-based medicine to a child suffering an epileptic fit as MPs discussed the future of medical treatments made from the illegal drug.

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan made the challenge to health minister Maria Caulfield as he opened the debate on the future of medical cannabis, which he stressed “will some day be the norm”.

MPs also heard from Conservative former minister Crispin Blunt, who said cannabis-based medicines could be better for pain relief than opiates like morphine, especially for end-of-life care if the Government changed its stance on the illegal substance.

Inverclyde MP Mr Cowan asked: “If a child was suffering from an epileptic seizure and the minister had the medicines in her hand, would she administer them? I am sure the answer to that is yes.

“So, will she please help to put that medicine into the hands of those who care for these children so that they can administer?”

Mr Cowan said the number of cannabis medicine prescriptions had remained very low since Sajid Javid licensed some treatments in 2018 while he was home secretary.

He said: “Three years and three months after the current Secretary of State for Health and while he was secretary of state for the Home Office changed the law to allow for prescriptions of medical cannabis, we still only have three NHS prescriptions.”

He called on Mr Javid to reply to a letter from Hannah Deacon, the mother of epileptic boy Alfie Dingle, who receives a cannabis-based medicine, which calls for the drugs to be more widely prescribed and used.

Health minister Ms Caulfield said she could confirm the Government’s “absolute commitment to take an evidence-based approach to unlicensed cannabis-based products for medical use”.

She insisted that while the Government is not involved in the process of licensing the medicine, as this is done by the independent regulator, it “should able to influence the speed in which the licensing process can take place”.

Ms Caulfield announced there is a randomised control trial set up to treat children with epilepsy, that will include CBD (cannabidiol) but also one arm with CBD THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and one arm with placebo.

She said: “That has been set up right now, we expect it to open fairly soon and those who are looking, there’s children in particular who are looking to access these drugs, will be able to access those, although in a blinded way on the study to take part.”

Mr Cowan interrupted the minister, saying: “Offering a child who is currently on medication, which has stopped him from hundreds of seizures a day, a random test which potentially has placebo in there. Who would do that?”

The health minister replied: “I take his point but there are many children who aren’t accessing that medication and this is a route through that.”

Reigate MP Crispin Blunt told the Commons about the benefits more widely using pain relief from cannabis medicines could have after insisting that Government drugs policy should be guided by a public health approach instead of a criminal justice approach.

He said: “The difference between opiate-based medicines … and cannabis-based medicines, the evidence is now all over the place about how much actually better it is because you then don’t have the addiction issues of the opiate-based medicines, you are not knocked out towards the end of your life, you retain much better control of your faculties and you can actually enjoy a much better quality of life if you are being managed in terminal care, let alone managing pain when you are not terminally ill.”

Labour shadow health minister Alex Norris said there had been a “frustrating lack of progress” with cannabis medicines, adding: “Progress in making cannabis-based medical products available to those who need them has been so slow”.

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