For many years medical cannabis activists have been battling to get the plant’s therapeutic benefits recognised, in the hope that by doing so patients could get legal access to what they say aids their health condition.
But in a recent decision by the UK Medicines Healthcare products and Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to reclassify Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in cannabis as a medicine, it is feared that medical cannabis use will be forced to go more underground than ever.
Last week the MHRA started issuing letters to UK CBD suppliers advising them of this decision and that sales of CBD products must stop within 28 days.
Marketing authorisation – the most likely but costly option
According to Peter Reynolds from UK medical cannabis activist group CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform, ‘It means CBD has become subject to medicine’s regulation as it applies in the UK which means either it has to have a marketing authorisation, which is the new word for a license, or traditional herbal registration. I think it’s unlikely to get a traditional herbal registration because you have to be able to show it’s been used as a herbal medicine for at least 30 years and I’m not sure anyone could say that about CBD’.
He continues, ‘so in other words it is going to have to have a full marketing authorization which is a massively expensive process. Just the fee for filling in the application form is £103,000 and then you have to provide clinical trials data. It’s massive. I don’t see how you can do it’.
So left in a CBD-less vacuum, many of the UK’s CBD buying consumers will find themselves without a domestic source to buy from.
Something that concerns neurologist Professor Mike Barnes, Scientific and Medical advisor to Clear. In an official statement he states, ‘It is encouraging that the MHRA is recognising that CBD has medicinal value but it is concerning that many people benefitting from CBD now will suffer in the short term as good quality manufacturers have to stop production pending MHRA approval’.
Barnes blames the current situation on the irresponsible health claims made by some CBD sellers.
‘The CBD market is full of cowboys, get-rich-quick scam artists that tell bare faced lies about their products as well as making outlandish claims for the medicinal benefits. The crackdown from the MHRA was inevitable when these fools put their short term gain ahead of developing a responsible and self-regulating market in which CBD could continue to be sold as a food supplement’.
Both he and Reynolds take issue in the way the MHRA has gone about bringing in the change in classification.
Reynolds says, ‘but where you can criticise the MHRA is for failure to do anything in the form of a consultation or making any interim measures for people who are relying on CBD because they have been using it for some time’.
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MHRA advises CBD users to get advice from doctors
But what official guidance is given to anyone currently using CBD for a medical condition?
The MHRA suggests people take their questions to a healthcare professional, which will probably serve of little consolation as most members of the health profession have never heard of CBD.
Something experienced by Phil Schwarz, an 82 year old rheumatoid arthritis sufferer from Merseyside, who about a month ago started taking CBD to help with her condition.
‘I’ve been seeing the same rheumatologist for 12 years and value her judgement, so when I was there for a regular check up and the “any questions” came up, I asked her what she thought of CBD.
‘She had no idea of what I was talking about and I knew she wasn’t taking me seriously. So I demanded that she look it up. So she was sitting at the computer with this look or face like “oh yeah, I’ll humour this woman”’
According to Phil, when the consultant came across the various medical research papers on CBD for conditions like arthritis, she started to take her request a little more seriously. Phil remembers, ‘suddenly the expression on her face changed as she leaned forward in her seat to concentrate on the screen. The body language was amazing’.
And so the rheumatologist agreed to ask the pharmaceutical department to look into CBD for rheumatoid arthritis and come back with their findings. Two weeks later Phil was told off the record, “it can’t do any harm and it might do some good and wouldn’t interfere with my medication”.
Buoyed by the response, Phil started taking 15% Raw hemp oil three times a day. ‘The first night I took it before going to bed, the next day I was out of bed like a spring chicken and a month later, I’m still pain free’.
Phil undeterred by MHRA decision
However, like many other UK CBD users Phil will be directly affected by this change in classification.
Undeterred she says, ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to continue using CBD. Now that I’ve found it, I’m not going to give it up. I’ll get it whichever way I can get it’.
So in the short term the situation looks bleak for CBD users in the UK like Phil. But what about the long term?
The first step towards reclassification and regulation of medical cannabis?
In the UK Cannabis is currently classified as having no therapeutic benefit and so logic would dictate that if one of its active compounds has been classed as medicine, than this status will eventually change as well.
Professor Barnes: ‘The only good news coming out of this debacle is that this could be the beginning of proper, honest regulation of cannabis as medicine. But if we’re looking at clinical trials before CBD can be marketed again, it could be many years away and that’s after someone or some company decides to invest the £250,000 or more that could cost’.
In the meantime, UK CBD users will be left in an illegal hinterland if they wish to continue using the products that they say help with their illnesses.
If you are a UK based CBD user and feel your voice hasn’t been heard, you can sign the following petition recently launched on 38 Degrees calling for the MHRA to ‘consider other means of approving CBD products so that patients do not suffer the consequences of this decision whilst stricter regulations are decided upon’.