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UK: Two cannabis drugs approved for the NHS

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The NHS (National Health Service) has agreed to use Epidiolex and Sativex

Thousands of patients will receive cannabis-based treatments after approval of the use of two drugs by the NHS. Children with two rare and aggressive forms of epilepsy will now have access to Epidiolex, which helps reduce seizures.

In addition, patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) will be offered a cannabis-based spray called Sativex that is used to treat muscle stiffness and spasms.

This is the first time that drugs containing cannabis are recommended to the NHS by the drug watchdog, NICE.

The associations welcomed this measure, but said that thousands of other people who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines have been left behind.

A modification of the law in 2018 made legal the prescription of medical cannabis by the doctors.

But many are reluctant to do so, citing the lack of clear guidelines on prescription and drug funding issues.

This has led some families to go abroad in search of drugs, in order to smuggle them into the UK.

NICE's new recommendations make it possible to examine cannabis products according to several criteria. Thus the public body has approved the use of Epidiolex to treat the Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, two types of epilepsy that affect about 9 000 people in the UK.

This treatment is an oral solution of cannabidiol (CBD) but does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that some parents claim is the most helpful for sick children.

NICE said there was a need for more research on cannabis-based medicines before it could approve the use of THC for other forms of epilepsy.

Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) may use a cannabis-based spray called Sativex that is used to treat muscle stiffness and spasms. This is the first time cannabis medications have been recommended by the NHS and the drug monitoring agency.

Simon Wigglesworth, deputy general manager of Epilepsy Action, welcomed the decision to recommend Epidiolex. He added, however, that there are thousands of people suffering from other complex, treatment-resistant epilepsies who could potentially benefit from cannabis-based drugs.

He explained: "While this is disappointing, we understand that clinical research is essential to ensure that any treatment recommended in the NHS is safe and effective. We are aware of ongoing efforts to advance research on cannabis-based epilepsy drugs, including those containing THC, at the same pace. "

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Nice has also recommended Sativex for treating muscle spasms in MS, a common symptom of the disease.

Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs for a Multiple Sclerosis Patient Association, said, "We have been campaigning for access to Sativex for years, and it's great that Nice finally listened our request. "

These guidelines are an important first step, but they do not go far enough. No cannabis treatments have been recommended to treat pain, a common symptom of MS.

According to her, the data shows that cannabis-based treatments may help about 10 000 people with MS get relief from pain and spasms when other treatments fail.

Families of two children, Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, both with severe epilepsy, have campaigned several times to facilitate access to cannabis-based medicines in the UK.

Epidiolex and Sativex are manufactured in the UK by GW Pharma, based in Cambridge.

Reactions between hope and frustration

Chris Tovey, Chief Operating Officer of GW, said: "This is an important opportunity for British patients and families who have been waiting for so many years for cannabis-based drugs to be rigorously tested, certified and approved by the authorities. regulatory requirements are reimbursed by the NHS. This is proof that cannabis-based medicines can be successfully subjected to extensive controlled trials and an evaluation process. I am extremely proud of the entire GW team for taking this important step in the country where the company was founded and where these two drugs were developed and manufactured. "

Helen Cross, pediatric neurology consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who led the Epidiolex trials in the UK, said it was "good news".
"Dravet's and Lennox Gastaut's syndromes are both complex and challenging epilepsies with limited effective treatment options, giving patients a new option that could make a difference in care," she added. .

Galia Wilson, president of Dravet Syndrome UK, said: "Many families come to us to ask about the potential of cannabis-based medicines, especially cannabidiol, and we are pleased that a drug is now available. . "
But not everyone is so enthusiastic. Many parents of children with epilepsy pay thousands of pounds a month for drugs imported from Europe and Canada that contain THC and CBD.
They have reported dramatic reductions in the number and severity of seizures in their children and are furious that NICE has not approved cannabis-based drugs for childhood epilepsy that contain both components.

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Furthermore, according to these organizations, the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of these treatments means that people with chronic pain should not yet be prescribed THC-containing medications.

Millie Hinton of the End Our Pain campaign said the NICE's new policy was "an important missed opportunity" to prescribe medical cannabis to thousands of people suffering from various ailments. "It is particularly distressing to note that there is no positive recommendation that the NHS should allow the prescription of whole plant medical cannabis containing both CBD (cannabidiol) and THC in appropriate cases. intractable infantile epilepsy, "she said.

It is this type of whole plant extract that has transformed the lives of a large number of children, including those involved in the high-profile cases of last year that led to the legalization of medical cannabis.

Millie Hinton of the End Our Pain campaign said the NICE's new policy was "an important missed opportunity" to prescribe medical cannabis to thousands of people suffering from various ailments. "It is particularly distressing to note that there is no positive recommendation that the NHS should allow the prescription of whole plant medical cannabis containing both CBD (cannabidiol) and THC in appropriate cases. intractable infantile epilepsy, "she said.

It is this type of whole plant extract that has transformed the lives of a large number of children, including those involved in the high-profile cases of last year that led to the legalization of medical cannabis.

A number of families met NICE senior representatives in person just a few weeks ago.

They verbally explained that they paid thousands of pounds every month for access to whole plant extracts of medical cannabis, and that their children had dramatic reductions in seizure rates and equally dramatic their quality of life.

source: www.bbc.com

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