Medical cannabis saves children’s lives, but at a cost

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A report, which analyzed data collected from 20 children with severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy over the course of two years, found that whole-plant cannabis treatment resulted in an 86% reduction in seizure frequency. Three patients in the study were seizure-free thanks to cannabis oil, which contains a range of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, including THC.

This result far exceeds that of any other epileptic drug (even the cannabinoid isolates, Sativex and Epidyolex), clearly demonstrating that whole plant cannabis oil could change and even save the lives of hundreds of children.

The studies, carried out by the non-profit organization Drug Science, also indicated a 96% chance that a similar patient with severe treatment-resistant epilepsy would respond positively to whole-plant medical cannabis.

Honorary Drug Science Research Assistant Rayyan Zafar said: “These children are seriously ill, with some having hundreds of seizures a day, resulting in severe developmental delays. We performed a retrospective observational study (on patients already taking whole plant cannabis tincture) with guidance from their physicians.

In addition to the impressive decrease in seizures, the children were also able to reduce an average of 8 pharmaceutical antiepileptics to 1 after the introduction of cannabis treatment.

“We saw a huge change in their physiology and an improvement in overall quality of life.” Says Zafar “The children were able to readapt to the daily routine, go back to school.”

These remarkable results reinforce the growing body of evidence we already have to prove the efficacy and safety of whole plant medical cannabis treatment. The growth of cannabis science has exploded over the past 8 years, with a staggering amount of research coming from Canada and Israel and around 4000 industry-funded studies currently underway in the UK.

3 NHS cannabis prescriptions

Professor David Nutt said: “Medical cannabis is probably the most important advance in medicine in recent years, due to its high safety and wide applicability to many different disorders. Unfortunately, antiquated ignorance and prejudice against illicit drugs and the false belief that only randomized controlled trials can provide evidence of effectiveness severely limit access to the NHS. It is essential that the UK government and the medical community learn about the growing evidence of the effectiveness of medical cannabis.

Since the 2018 law change that made medical cannabis legally available in the UK, only 3 whole plant prescriptions have been made on the NHS.

For all other pediatric epilepsy patients, the average cost of this life-saving drug is £874 per month. As a result, many families have to sell their homes, take out loans and raise funds to support their children.

the average cost of this life-saving drug is £874 per month. As a result, many families have to sell their homes, take out loans and raise funds to support their children.

What’s stopping Global Britain from using its position as the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis to become a leader in healthcare, by opening up this extraordinary treatment to over one million people in the UK likely to benefit?

These are not health risks. The side effects of cannabis-based drugs are now known to be minimal – which is not the case with easily prescribed pharmaceuticals, such as benzodiazepines (a type of sedative drug), which are potentially very dangerous.

Nor is it a lack of evidence. We have a large body of real-world data to draw from (something that has been deemed important enough to ground the deployment of COVID vaccines in pregnant women), and thousands of studies too. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are rarer because they can be difficult to perform, given the complex nature of the plant and the rarity of certain conditions. However, 43% of new cancer drugs given the green light in recent years were approved without supporting RCTs – something that might be considered appropriate for urgently needed medicines or to serve a “unmet clinical need”.

It’s not the cost: ‘You can introduce zero-emission cannabis,’ says neurologist and medical cannabis expert Professor Mike Barnes, ‘Expanding NHS access to cannabis would reduce hospital stays. ‘hospital, drugs, nursing time, physiotherapy, intensive care costs and opioids to start’.

You can introduce cannabis at net zero, expanding NHS access to cannabis would reduce hospital stays, medications, nursing time, physiotherapy, intensive care costs and opioids for beginners.

– Professor Mike Barnes

In addition to what, a new spinal muscular atrophy drug for children that costs £1.795million per single dose was recently licensed using evidence from 16 children in an open label study. It shows it can be done – £1.7m would cover all UK children currently on prescription cannabis for an entire year.

Resistance from the pharmaceutical industry

It could have something to do with protecting pharmaceutical companies that work with the BPNA (British Pediatric Neurological Association).

“GW Pharmaceuticals has already created isolated cannabis medicines and has a strong lobbying voice on the other side.” Says Hannah Deacon, whose son Alfie Dingley receives one of three whole plant cannabis prescriptions on the NHS and has been seizure-free for over 600 days. “There is a place for isolates like Sativex and Epidyolex,” she says. “But whole-plant medicines are needed for some conditions and they need to be made available.”

It is neither reasonable nor safe to offer cannabinoid isolate in place of whole vegetable oil, which contains a range of 147 known cannabinoids, as well as a wide variety of terpenes and therapeutic flavonoids. However, one of the reasons for doing so could be that Epidyolex and other patented cannabinoid formulations have already received orphan drug designation. This provides ten years of protection against competition in the market by similar drugs, for the treatment of similar diseases with similar indications, in order to give the pharmaceutical company more time to recoup its investment.

Educational barriers

Obstacles are probably also related to the fact that no medical school in the UK trains doctors on the endocannabinoid system (a complex physiological system that maintains balance in all bodily processes and interacts directly with cannabis) or on cannabis as a medicine, rather than a substance of abuse.

“I tried to get [the ECS] in the medical course at Imperial College, but I was told they couldn’t fit it in,” says Dr Zafar. “There needs to be a complete shift in medical schools to update clinical guidelines on cannabis and CSE.”

As well as a lack of education, support for doctors and the cannabis prescribing framework on the NHS is also non-existent. GPs are currently not allowed to initiate the prescription process. Help is available for clinicians interested in taking it upon themselves to learn more, via the Society of Medical Cannabis Clinicians. Although desperately needed, the UK government does not provide any funding or support for cannabis training or research.

“In the past 30 years, only 2 new epilepsy drugs have come out. Cannabis is a drug that could help a vast majority. Says Hannah Deacon, who is determined to help other families in need.

“Cannabis could be funded through an innovative medicine pathway, but it is not considered innovative, although it can and will be. It’s an amazing factory with so many opportunities to help people.

There are currently patents held for cannabis-based drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, autism, neuropathic pain, and even schizophrenia.

Jo Griffiths, mum to 12-year-old Ben, who experienced a drastic change in his seizures and general health thanks to whole plant cannabis oil, has been paying £1,852 a month since 2019 for an oil prescription of whole plant cannabis.

Jo Griffiths’ son, Ben, before and after access to medical cannabis

“Without a whole plant of cannabis, Ben has no quality of life. He can have up to 300 seizures a day, making him unable to eat, drink or function at all. happy and fulfilling life and has had crisis free days for the first time in his life.It is heinous that our financial situation literally determines whether my son lives or dies.We need access to the NHS now.


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