THERE have been calls in Westminster for the UK Government to make medical cannabis more widely available for use and research.

A debate in the House of Commons was brought by SNP MP Ronnie Cowan who asked a Conservative health minister whether she would give a cannabis-based medicine to a child suffering a seizure.

The Inverclyde MP challenged Maria Caulfield as he opened the debate on the future of medical cannabis use in the UK, something he stressed would "some day be the norm”.

Cowan said: “If a child was suffering from an epileptic seizure and the minister had the medicines in her hand, would she administer them? I am sure the answer to that is yes. So, will she please help to put that medicine into the hands of those who care for these children so that they can administer?”

Medical cannabis was legalised for use in the UK in November 2018 after the cases of two children with epilepsy who benefitted from it brought increased attention to the issue.

Cowan highlighted that the number of cannabis medicine prescriptions was very low since it was licensed for treatment by then home secretary Sajid Javid who made it legal for patients with an "exceptional clinical need".

READ MORE: People being ‘denied access’ to medicinal cannabis three years after law change

Cowan said that three years on from changing the law to allow for prescriptions of medical cannabis there are still only three prescriptions available from the NHS.

He also called for the drug classification of cannabis to be lowered so medical researchers could obtain it more easily to make new medicines.

The 2018 decision rescheduled cannabis, moving certain cannabis-derived products from Schedule 1 - meaning they are judged to have no therapeutic effect and require a Home Office licence to research - into Schedule 2. 

Schedule 2 means substances that have a potential medical use and also includes cocaine, heroin and other drugs.

Cowan said: “There is still an issue in a lot of academic organisations cannot get the access to the cannabis plant, to the hemp plant they require because it is graded as category two, which keeps it out of the hands of the people that … the process they have to go through to access the raw product is prohibitive.

“The re-categorisation from two to four: we can aid research for a host of academic establishments.”

Schedule 4 drugs are subject to minimal control and include the likes of some benzodiazepines, used to treat conditions like anxiety, insomnia and seizures.

READ MORE: Scots carrying Class A drugs may be given 'warning' in radical new policing plans

Former Tory minister Crispin Blunt (below) told the Commons that not researching cannabis more was a "missed opportunity" for the UK and that cannabis-based medicine could be better for pain relief than opiates like morphine, highlighting its potential benefits for end-of-life care.

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The Reigate MP said: “The difference between opiate-based medicines … and cannabis-based medicines, the evidence is now all over the place about how much actually better it is because you then don’t have the addiction issues of the opiate-based medicines, you are not knocked out towards the end of your life, you retain much better control of your faculties and you can actually enjoy a much better quality of life if you are being managed in terminal care, let alone managing pain when you are not terminally ill.

“It is part of a huge missed opportunity here: there is a huge bioscience opportunity for the United Kingdom and we are missing that opportunity because we haven’t got these regulations right or the implementation of them has not enabled these medicines to begin to find a place that they deserve within the pharmacopeia and the treatments available to doctors.”

Blunt also said drugs misuse needed to be treated as a “public health” issue, not a criminal justice issue, as this was costing the taxpayer a lot of money.

Scotland's Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC (below) announced in September that people in Scotland caught carrying Class A drugs will now not face immediate prosecution.

The new policy hopes to reverse a trend of drug deaths in Scotland that have continued to grow past records for almost a decade.

Bain said that the current policy in place allows the use of Recorded Police Warnings (RPWs) to deal with cases of possession of Class B and C drugs.

The National: Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain

Labour shadow health minister Alex Norris said there had been a "frustrating lack of progress” in making cannabis-based medical products available to those who need them.

LibDem MP for Edinburgh West Christine Jardine also decried the lack of progress made, saying: "People are still in pain in this country. Families are spending … upwards of £1000, sometimes £3000 a month, in order to secure legal medication for their children which they cannot get on the National Health Service."

Tory health minister Caulfield (below) said she could confirm the Government’s “absolute commitment to take an evidence-based approach to unlicensed cannabis-based products for medical use, to ensure that there’s evidence, that they are effective but also safe”.

READ MORE: Hundreds seek help from Scotland’s first medical cannabis clinic in first week

On the issue of children that cannot secure legal medication through the National Health Service, Caulfield announced there is a randomised control trial which has been set up, that will include CBD (cannabidiol) but also one arm with CBD THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and one arm with placebo.

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She said: “That has been set up right now, we expect it to open fairly soon and those who are looking, there’s children in particular who are looking to access these drugs, will be able to access those, although in a blinded way on the study to take part.”

Cowan interrupted the minister, saying: “Offering a child who is currently on medication, which has stopped him from hundreds of seizures a day, a random test which potentially has placebo in there. Who would do that?”

The health minister replied: “I take his point but there are many children who aren’t accessing that medication and this is a route through that."