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First cannabis-based medicines approved for use on NHS

There is currently limited use of medical cannabis in the UK Credit: PA

Two cannabis-based medicines have been recommended for use on the NHS for the first time.

Epidyolex has been approved for two rare types of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, while the spray Sativex has been recommended for muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis (MS).

Charities welcomed the move, but said thousands of other people who could benefit from cannabis-based medicines were left in limbo.

A change in the law in 2018 made it legal for doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis. However, many doctors have been reluctant to do so, citing a lack of clear guidance on prescribing and issues over funding for the drugs.

This has led some families to go abroad in search of medicines, with some bringing them into the UK illegally.

The new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) looked at cannabis-based products for several conditions. It found a lack of evidence regarding their use in the management of chronic pain and said people with chronic pain should not be prescribed drugs containing THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) - the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

It also said more research was needed on cannabis-based medicines to treat forms of epilepsy other than Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet.

Tannine Montgomery Credit: ITV Anglia

Tannine Montgomery from Suffolk has a five-year-old daughter who suffers from epilepsy. She's said the NICE recommendations are disappointing to them and many families who privately use Bedrolite, another cannabis-based medicinal product.

"The guidelines state that Epidiolex is the only cannabis-based medicinal product that can be prescribed for childhood epilepsy, but this is a different medicine to what us and all these families are using," Ms Montgomery told us.

"After having many months of good to very good results for our children, we are understandably not willing to change to a different medicine, which some have already used with poor results. They are getting much better results with Bedrolite."

Her daughter, Indie-Rose, has been using Bedrolite privately for over 14 months. Ms Montgomery said she has seen a significant decrease in Indie-Rose's symptoms since she began using the drug.

Indie-Rose playing with her parents Credit: ITV Anglia

"I feel that the NICE guidelines are restrictive and I am not confident that Indie would be able to access medical cannabis on the NHS", she said.

Tracey Risebrow, Ipswich nurse and Royal College of Nursing Eastern board Chair, said: “I welcome the news that these two drugs should now be available to more patients who could benefit.

“While it is definitely a step in the right direction, there is still much more that could be done to increase access to cannabis-based drugs for a wider range of conditions. We need to see more research into the benefits of these medications to patients so staff feel confident in prescribing them.”

NICE also recommended Sativex to treat muscle spasms in MS, a common symptom of the disease.

"We've been campaigning for access to Sativex for years, and it's brilliant NICE has finally listened," Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs at the MS Society, said.

She added: "These guidelines are an important first step, but don't go far enough. No cannabis-based treatments have been recommended to treat pain, a common symptom of MS."

She said evidence shows cannabis-based treatments could help around 10,000 people with MS get relief from pain and spasms when other treatments have not worked.