12 Nov

NHS England approves two cannabis-based drugs

NHS England has approved two cannabis-based drugs, which will be used to treat patients with epilepsy and multiple sclerosis in England. 

The move follows the release of new guidelines issued by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). The advisory body explored the impact of cannabis-based medicines for a number of conditions.

The news has been welcomed by several charities, but some claim that the reach should be broader. For now, only two cannabis-based medicines will be approved for NHS use in England. Both have been produced and developed in the UK.

Under new NICE guidelines, doctors in England will be able to prescribe Epidyolex for children who suffer from two severe types of epilepsy: Lennox Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Both can cause multiple seizures per day. Clinical trials showed that the drug, which contains a compound from the cannabis plant called cannabidiol (CBD), reduced seizures by up to 40% in some children. 

In September, the drug was approved for use in Europe, but there was a debate over the cost of the medication, which equated to between £5,000 and £10,00 per year per patient. After drawn-out negotiations, the manufacturer, GW Pharmaceuticals, agreed to lower the price and NICE reviewed its stance, agreeing that the drug represented value for money. 

The other drug that has been approved is Sativex, an oral spray that contains CBD and another cannabis compound, THC. CBD does not provide the high often associated with cannabis. This drug will be used to treat patients who suffer from muscle stiffness and spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis. It will not be available for pain relief. Sativex became the UK’s first approved cannabis-based drug when it was made available to patients in Wales in 2014. It costs around £2,000 per patient per year.