Image: a graphic showing the chemical structure of cannabis

Cannabis for MS: we’ve come far but there’s still a way to go

Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs, reflects on a year of calling for cannabis for medicinal use to be legalised for people with MS who could benefit.

A lot can change in a year

In July 2017 we changed our position on cannabis for medicinal use, and we didn’t quite know what we were heading into. It’s now almost a year since we announced our change and things have been moving quickly.

In February 2018, we launched our first public action on cannabis for MS. Thousands of people contacted their MP saying cannabis should be legalised for medicinal use to treat pain and spasms in MS. Because at the end of the day it shouldn’t be illegal to get a good night’s sleep.

Since then, calls for change have grown louder and louder. Stories of patients not being able to access cannabis to manage their symptoms have appeared across the media. The issue has become too hard for the UK Government to ignore.

Government review into cannabis for medicinal use

In June, the Home Secretary approved some special licenses for children with certain types of epilepsy to take cannabis to help reduce their seizures.

Following these approvals the Home Office announced a two-part review into the scheduling of cannabis. The first part of the review is to assess the clinical evidence for cannabis. The second part will assess whether the law around cannabis for medicinal use should be changed.

When a review was announced we were keen to make sure that MS was properly considered. And we were not the only ones. Celebrities, MPs and neurologists joined us in saying MS should be included in the review – and it was.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, conducted the first part of the review. It was her professional opinion that cannabis-based medicinal products have therapeutic benefits for some medical conditions. This included treating chronic pain and spasticity in MS.

What happens next?

Now we’re waiting for the second part of the review to finish. We hope that it will consider the clear evidence for cannabis and call for a change in its legal standing.

If it does, we move one step closer to people with MS who could benefit from cannabis for medicinal use being able to get it. However, what that system looks like and how long it will take are still unknown.

A system with people with MS at the centre

What we do know is that any system must focus on people who could benefit, like some people with MS. We need doctors educated and confident in the medical benefits of cannabis. And we need to ensure that safe treatments are available to people across the UK, regardless of their post code.

But one thing that is certain: we’ll continue calling for this sensible and important change until it is a reality.

It’s been a big year – but bigger things are to come.

Update: The second part of the review has now concluded. Find out what it says and what happens next.