Why is it still so hard to get hold of medical cannabis? Alex-Cole Hamilton
Sometimes writing this column feels like I’m hitting my head repeatedly against a brick wall.
There are topics I pick where I think, ‘this will be the last time I have to write about this.’ – only to find myself composing 500 words or so on the same issue again and again. I feel that this week. Three years ago, I wrote an article celebrating the fact that the Home Office had issued the first long term licence for personal use of medical cannabis. And yet still, 36 months later and the vast majority of patients who could benefit from cannabis therapies, just aren’t getting access to them though the NHS.
It means that one mum in my constituency is having to fund medicinal cannabis privately, to the point of destitution, just to keep her little boy alive.
I’ve known Murray Gray and his family for 4 years. Murray is eight and has a profound and complex form of epilepsy that regular medications just can’t touch. He was having literally hundreds of life-threatening seizures every single day and his mum Karen wasn’t just going to sit back and watch her son die. She did extensive research and found that there was a weight of clinical evidence internationally that her son’s condition could be significantly aided with the use of cannabis derived therapies.
In early 2019 Murray’s Epilepsy took a dramatic turn. He entered ‘Status’, a condition where the seizures just won’t end, and he wouldn’t come around. It’s highly likely that Murray would have died had Karen not moved heaven and Earth to obtain a private prescription for Bedrolite, a cannabis oil that she gets from the Netherlands. She administered it to Murray herself and in a short space of time Murray had revived from Status and his seizures dropped away altogether. He’s not had one for almost 2 years.
Karen knows that were she to stop giving him his daily dose of Cannabis oils then Murray would return to a state of near constant seizure. So, she scrapes together £1,3000 every single month for the cost of the prescription and it is ruining her. The problem is, that even though Murray’s GP is willing to prescribe the oils, he’s not on the approved list of clinicians who can, and none of those who are on it will. It’s not because they think it’s bad for him, they just aren’t sure of the drug without any UK trial data and with a residual anxiety around cannabis therapies and the Misuse of Drugs Act. It’s not just Murray that’s struggling to get the help he needs. Only three NHS prescriptions have been issued in the whole of the UK for these therapies.
On Wednesday, Murray’s older brother Dean will hand a letter into Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister, asking Nicola Sturgeon to break the impasse. His words are compelling.
He doesn’t think it’s fair that his mum should have to spend all the family has on medicine that the government has agreed is safe and legal for use in the UK and nor do I.
The Scottish Government can’t compel clinicians to write scripts, but it can support Karen financially, until clinical trials are conducted to give clinicians the confidence they need, and so it should.