The UK’s long standing position as an international laggard on medical cannabis legislation appears to finally be coming to a head in the wake of the high profile case of Billy Caldwell, the 12-year old who suffers from severe epilepsy. The child had travelled to Canada with his mother, who had gone to North America to buy the cannabis oil which had put a stop to the violent epileptic episodes threatening his life.
On their return to the UK, it was confiscated by the Home Office due to the fact it contains trace amounts of THC, the compound responsible for the ‘high’ associated with recreational use of the drug. That, despite the fact the levels of THC present in the medicinal strains in which CBD dominates are so low that experts say even a hundred doses wouldn’t contain enough to produce a ‘high’.
CBD, which has been demonstrated in clinical trials to alleviate seizures such as those associated with epilepsy, as well as being thought to have less well explored medicinal properties for the treatment of a range of other diseases and conditions including cancers, MS and anxiety, is a natural compound found in the marijuana plant. It is now legal in many countries and territories internationally, including Canada, Germany, Australia, Italy and 30 US States.
Following the confiscation of the oil, Billy was admitted to hospital having suffered a potentially life-threatening seizure. The subsequent media coverage and public outcry led to an intervention by Home Secretary Sajid Javid and the return of one bottle of the oil for the child’s treatment. Javid, alied by Health Secretary Noel Hunt, were reported to have yesterday been pushing for a full review of the law around medical cannabis as public pressure mounts.
Lord William Hague, who was leader of the Conservative Party between 1997 and 2001 yesterday called for a more complete law change and urged the UK to follow the lead currently being set by Canada, which is on the very of the full legalisation of cannabis, including recreational use. He believes that with public opinion no longer supporting legal restriction of cannabis, and several police departments unofficially no longer pursuing enforcement of the law, current legislation only serves to waste valuable resources and provide a source of income to criminal gangs. Writing for The Telegraph, Lord Hague stated:
“The idea that this can be driven off the streets and out of people’s lives by the state is nothing short of deluded. Everyone sitting in a Whitehall conference room needs to recognise that, out there, cannabis is ubiquitous, and issuing orders to the police to defeat its use is about as up to date and relevant as asking the Army to recover the Empire.
“This battle is effectively over.”
While still early, it looks likely current momentum will lead to a parliamentary review of the status of medical cannabis. This may lead to subsequent relaxing of the position against recreational strains. This will have alerted UK biotech companies in the space. GW Pharmaceuticals, the UK biopharma company that produces Epidiolex, the first approved cannabis-based medicine for the treatment of several rare forms of epilepsy, is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the USA. That decision was taken in large part due to archaic attitudes in its domestic market.
Strict laws have also inhibited other UK biotech and biopharma companies in the space, most of whom are currently forced to do their research and development abroad. Professor Celia Morgan, Professor of Psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter, commented:
“We currently lag behind the rest of the world in our use and research of cannabinoid medicines”.
Recent events will have raised hopes among biotech researchers that new legislation that will enable them to work more freely and better access much needed investment capital could now be on the very of becoming a new reality.