The European Union has taken the landmark step of approving a medical cannabis product for use in certain cases of epilepsy. Put simply, this means that the drug can legally be prescribed within the UK and other EU countries, however, at present it is not recommended by the NHS. (source: BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-49795260)
Just last month The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) announced that they had initially decided not to recommend prescriptions of Epidiolex as they were not satisfied with the evidence of its long-term effectiveness. Read more about it in our blog post here.
Epidiolex is the clinical name for the drug that’s developed by GW Pharmaceuticals. It’s an oral solution derived from the cannabis plant, however, it does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive compound of cannabis, which many parents have argued should be included.
The product is only aimed at patients who have two forms of childhood epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Both Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndrome are fairly rare, but typically severe forms of childhood epilepsy. Epidiolex has been used in children as young as 2 who have been diagnosed with either syndrome. Both syndromes are known to be difficult to treat and can result in multiple seizures per day.
This ruling should, in theory, make it easier for these families to get access to the drug. However, with the NICE recommendation and the lack of NHS recommendation, this may not always be the case.
Medical Director at the Epilepsy Society and Professor of Neurology at University College London, Ley Sander commented: “This new drug will bring hope for some families and EU approval feels like a positive step. Medicinal cannabis, however, still remains a medical minefield and there are many hurdles ahead.”
“CBD was not recommended by NICE for prescription on the NHS. It is important that the pharmaceutical industry continues to work with the medical advisory body to ensure that drugs are cost-effective and that its long-term effects are clear.”
There are a number of different cannabis-based products available, some of which are legal within the UK although possibly not approved for use on the NHS. Not all of these medications are developed for use with epilepsy either. At present, there have been very few cases of these drugs being prescribed as they are currently seen as a last option where other drugs have already failed.
One thing is clear. Although medicinal cannabis continues to be a hot topic for parents and doctors alike, steps are being taken in the right direction to offer clarity and ensure that these medications are more likely to be readily available to those who need them in the near future.