GW Pharmaceuticals' growing facility. (Image: GW Pharmaceuticals)
05 March 2018
New UN report reveals UK
is world’s biggest producer of medical cannabis
A new report from the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board has revealed the UK is the world’s largest producer and exporter of legal cannabis for medical and scientific uses. Yet proper access to medical cannabis is still denied to UK patients.
The report - that includes data from governments around the world - reveals that the UK produced 95 tonnes of legal cannabis in 2016. This is more than double the 2015 total of 42 tonnes, at which point the UK leapfrogged Canada into the number one spot.
This news may come as a surprise to many, given that the UK Government has consistently refused to allow medical cannabis in the UK on the basis that it has ‘no therapeutic value’.
There is, however, one UK licensed cannabis-based medicine called Sativex - (a whole plant cannabis extract in spray form) - produced by GW pharmaceuticals - accounting for a significant proportion of UK legal cannabis production. It is available on prescription, but only via the NHS in Wales. For many people it is either not the right cannabis product, or too expensive to buy privately. Estimates suggest as many as 1 million people who use cannabis for medical purposes are put at risk from buying cannabis on the criminal market.
The UK situation is complex, and somewhat confusing (see notes to editors).
The Government is denying that cannabis has medical uses, but at the same time licensing production of the world's biggest government licensed medical cannabis production and export market.
Medical cannabis products licensed in other countries remain illegal in the UK, even when prescribed by a doctor who has determined they are needed by a UK patient
Steve Rolles, Transform's Senior Policy Analyst said:
“It is scandalous and untenable for the UK government to maintain that cannabis has no medical uses, at the same time as licensing the world’s biggest government approved medical cannabis production and export market.
“UK patients are either denied access and suffering unnecessarily, or are forced to buy cannabis from the criminal market. Countries with proper access to medical cannabis do not have this problem, as standardised cannabis products are in the hands of doctors and pharmacists.
It is profoundly unethical, and a violation of the fundamental right to health, to deny people access to medicines that are prescribed by their doctors. The government must relax restrictions that grant a monopoly for a single product to a single company. It must allow access to cannabis-based medicines that serve patients needs – what they don’t need is the government’s cruel and misguided war on people who use drugs.“
Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst, Transform Drug Policy Foundation: 07980 213 943 firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
1. The UK’s bizarre medical cannabis laws
Cannabis is a class B drug, controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (and schedule 1 with ‘no medical use’ )
One cannabis based medicine is, however, currently licensed in the UK (under schedule 4(i)) - ‘Sativex’ produced by GW pharmaceuticals.
Sativex is approved by the MHRA for use as a treatment for multiple sclerosis but doctors can prescribe it for other uses - it is expensive, and only available on the NHS in Wales (Not England, Scotland or Northern Ireland).
Sativex is a standardised whole plant tincture (cannabis extracted into alcohol) - rather than a single component of the plant extracted as a pharmaceutical. It therefore IS MEDICAL CANNABIS by any reasonable definition.
Medical cannabis products licensed in other countries - such as ‘Bedrocan’ in the Netherlands (a standardised herbal cannabis product) - cannot be legally accessed, imported or possessed in the UK by UK citizens, even if prescribed by a UK doctor.
EU citizens prescribed other medical cannabis products, such as Bedrocan, in the EU can, however, legally bring them to the UK and consume them here. So use of herbal medical cannabis is technically legal in the UK, but not by UK citizens
CBD oil (a non-psychoactive cannabis extract) currently exists in a legal grey area (see notes). GW pharmaceuticals are also producing ‘Epidiolex’, currently in phase three trials) likely to be first fully licensed prescribable CBD medical product in the UK when trials are finalised.
2. International Narcotic Control Board report: see (p.43-44)
3. UK medical cannabis laws explained
4. CBD Oil confusion explained
5. The MS Society UK campaign for legal medical cannabis for MS patients
6. Victoria Atkins MP, UK Drugs Minister, declared that her husband has a Home Office license to grow medical cannabis used to treat epileptic conditions in children