Cannabis-based medicines are legal, so why is it still so hard to get a prescription?

20th March 2019

On November 1st 2018, cannabis-based medicines became legal in what was a momentous turning point for many families who had fought for legality. A young boy named Billy Caldwell and his family made national news as a result of their plight and campaign to have cannabis-based medicines made available after it had shown effectiveness in treating his severe epilepsy. It was hoped this would end the need to go abroad to source the medication legally.

However, since then there have been many reports that it is still incredibly difficult to obtain a prescription for cannabis-based medicines. There are a few reasons that this may be, which we’re going to look at in more detail in this post.

Strict restrictions

When the announcement was first made, it was accompanied by a number of clauses, the first of which was that cannabis-based medicines would only be prescribed to those who had “exceptional clinical need”. It would also need to be proved beyond doubt that these medicines would benefit the patient and that they could only be prescribed by specialist clinicians, not GPs.

Lack of licenses in the UK

The UK is still in its infancy in terms of cannabis-based medications, which means that there are still no licensed products available within the country. This limits the availability of these medications and in turn makes it more difficult for even the specialist clinicians to prescribe them. By UK law, medication needs to be licensed before it can be prescribed, and if an unlicensed medication is prescribed the responsibility lies with the person who writes the prescription. This could quite clearly make clinicians less inclined to prescribe a medication that they will ultimately be held accountable for.

Recommendations and guidelines

At present, there is only one cannabis-based medication that has been recommended to treat epilepsy in children, Epidolex. This limits clinicians who are less likely to stray into other medications, despite not being completely bound by the recommendation. Billy Caldwell, for example, for whom the entire debate started, requires a different type of medication that is not Epidolex.

Another recommendation is that cannabis-based medicines are only used as a “last resort”, which means families with children who have severe epilepsy may have to try a range of treatments before they are considered for CBD medication.

So, what’s next for cannabis-based medications?

It’s clear that for these medications to truly have an effect and potentially help those who have severe epilepsy that something needs to change. The National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) is expected to publish their own guidelines on the prescription of cannabis-based medications and there are numerous campaigns to relax the restrictions so that more people may benefit.

More research is taking place on the effects of cannabis-based medications and the potential uses of the other parts of the plant (other than cannabidiol, which is currently the only legal part). It is hoped that as time passes this research will highlight more benefits that will lead to these medications being made more readily available.

For more information on cannabis-based medications, read our blog post here.

National Epilepsy Training can help

If you need more information or guidance to find out if you or your child might be considered for cannabis-based medications, we can help. Please contact us on 01706 373075 or email