UK Eases Medical Cannabis Import Restrictions

UK medicinal cannabis imports
Image: mohamed_hassan

UK patients being prescribed cannabis-based medicines should start seeing improvements in availability of imported products soon.

Most cannabis medicines used in the UK are imported. The red tape involved with getting them into the country means it can take extended periods before they wind up in the hands of patients. This isn’t just because of the import side of things, but also due to export restrictions in the country of origin. An example is Canada, where an export certificate can take 1 – 2 months.

While the receiving country can get around this somewhat by making larger orders, if that country’s restrictions on imports are too tight – such as in the UK – the problem is compounded.

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care and Home Office announced yesterday changes to import restrictions will enable licensed wholesalers to import larger quantities of cannabis-based products and hold supplies for future use by patients with prescriptions.

“The changes made today are a tremendous step towards improving the supply of cannabis-based medicinal products by helping to ensure quicker and more reliable access for patients,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.

However, Mr. Hancock says the UK still has a long way to go on reducing costs of medicines and removing barriers to accessing them where appropriate.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the changes will enable patients to be “treated in days, not months”.

In announcing the easing of import restrictions, the UK Government said it was also continuing to engage with medical associations and patients to build evidence for the use of medicinal cannabis. This includes using trials in the UK to accelerate understanding of how it can be of benefit.

“This is necessary for wider prescribing by NHS clinicians in future,” said the statement.

So far, only two natural cannabis-based medicines used to treat epilepsy and multiple sclerosis are approved for use by the NHS in England.

While access to some forms of medical cannabis has been and will continue to be challenging in the UK, access to cannabidiol (CBD) is much easier as it is classified as a “novel food” where medical claims aren’t made and is widely available. However, due to quality issues in the rapidly growing local CBD industry, it will reined in by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to some degree.