It was decided that from November 1st 2018 Cannabis based medicine would be able to be prescribed by UK specialist clinicians. before the law changed it was extremely difficult to get a prescription for Cannabis based medicine. It was a big step forward when in 2018 a review into cannabis based medicine was announced by the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid this then led to a change in the law allowing it to be prescribed. Unfortunately many people are still finding it hard to access this treatment. it was announced that it would only be available to those with exceptional clinical need’s and that only specialist clinicians would be able to prescribe this medication not GP’s. Another issue was that there was no licensed Cannabis based medicine products in the UK for epilepsy yet. All of these things already made it hard to access the medication. These clauses were put in place to make sure that only those people in critical need of the treatment got the medication. Evidence of effectiveness and safety of some Cannabis based medicines in epilepsy is still quite limited.
There is some good news for the effectiveness for one part of the Cannabis plant- Cannabidiol (CBD). This is the part of the plant which does not cause the effect of a high. A CBD medicine ,under the brand name Epidiolex is now approved for use in the US and a decision is expected for European Medicines Agency later this year. However the evidence for Epidiolex focuses on Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes in children. Evidence for its use for other conditions and in other age groups is limited.
The British Paediatric Neurology Association (BPNA) guidance has focused on Cannabis-based medicines in severe epilepsy in children. It is recommended that Cannabis-based medicines be used only as a last resort. All other available licensed medicines need to have been tried without success. The Ketogenic diet must have either been tried unsuccessfully or not be suitable. Epilepsy surgery must also not be suitable. If these conditions are met the BPNA only recommends prescribing Epidiolex. It does not recommend Cannabis oil or any other Cannabis-based medicine.
Later this year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is expected to publish its own guidelines for specialist clinicians. Epilepsy Action is a registered stakeholder with NICE and is engaging with them around the guidelines through the formal consultation process. Once they are published, these guidelines will replace the guidance which is currently available.
There have also been concerns about current access to Epidiolex. This is the only Cannabis-based medicine recommended by the guidance, but the guidance is still very restrictive over its use and the fact that it is not licensed yet and the high costs associated with it are also creating a problem in terms of access. Later this year this medicine is expected to be licensed for prescription in the UK. When this happens accessing the medicine should be easier but its high cost could still be a barrier when trying to access this treatment. Steps have been taken towards makint this treatment more available in the UK but there is still more that needs to be done. With the expected Epidiolex licence and the new guidelines from NICE on the horizon the situation is likely to continue to change in the next year and organisations like Epilepsy Action are working hard to make this medication more accessible to people who need it.
Source Epilepsy Action.
For more information about this new treatment go to epilepsy.org.uk/epilepsytoday