New Data Reveals England’s Private Medical Cannabis Prescriptions In 2021 Were More Than 9 Times That Of 2020

FOLLOWING last week’s dramatic political developments in the UK, which saw nearly 50 Members of Parliament quit in 48 hours, the prospect of making medical cannabis more affordable and accessible for the UK’s estimated 1.4m patients has inevitably fallen further down the list of political priorities.

Despite this, the persistent stream of calls for reform from both the industry and inside government continues, with Baroness Meacher set to press the Government today in the House of Lords on what plans they have to enable general practitioners (GPs) to prescribe medical cannabis. 

As this slow but steady battle continues in Whitehall, the UK’s medical cannabis industry has continued to grow at pace regardless of the regulatory barriers. 

New data seen by BusinessCann reveals that the number of medical cannabis prescriptions grew far above estimates last year, while the number of pharmacies requesting licences for cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans (CBPMs) was close to 1,000. 

Fresh Figures

According to data obtained by Prohibition Partners via a Freedom of Information request, seen by BusinessCann, the number of privately prescribed, unlicensed medical cannabis items dispensed between September and November 2021 topped 14,799. 

The number of unlicensed items prescribed to patients in England in 2021 was more than 9 times that of 2020.

This also represented a significant increase on preceding quarters, jumping nearly 40% compared with prescriptions between June and August, and 157% compared with prescriptions between March and May. 

DateNo. of Private Prescriptions% Change on Previous Month
This information is licenced under the terms of the Open Government Licence. NHSBSA Copyright 2022

One item here refers to a single product on a prescription, e.g. if a patient is prescribed three packages of Tilray 25:1 oil and one of Noidecs 20:1, these would register as just two items. 

While Prohibition Partners detailed the figures from November 2018 to August 2021 in their recently released European Cannabis Report: 7th Edition, data relating to the period between August and November was extrapolated. 

The newly released data, published here for the first time, suggests growth in private prescriptions is considerably higher than previous estimates. 

While there is no data available on the number of private prescriptions for 2022, separate data released by the Home Office in May gives some insight into the number of pharmacies across the UK prescribing medical cannabis. 

In response to a request from Labour MP for Birmingham Shabana Mahmood, to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, regarding how many medical cannabis licences have been granted to pharmacies across England over the last 12 months, the Government is understood to have published figures for the first time.

The data shows that 872 applications for CBPM licences were made by pharmacies between May 2021 and May 2022.

May-22 (to 17 May)18

It is important to note here that, according to the Home Office, this data was gained from the Home Office Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit (DFLU). 

Pharmacies hoping to prescribe CBPMs would usually obtain their supply from fully licensed pharmaceutical wholesalers, and would not require licensing from the DFLU unless they were exporting medical cannabis overseas. 

New Clinical RCT Trials

Signs also emerged last week that the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) was poised to launch new trials into the safety and efficacy of unlicensed CBPMs on children with epilepsy. 

The lack of randomised control trials (RCTs), the gold standard set by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) professionals, has long been touted as a barrier to greater inclusion of cannabis medicines on the NHS. 

When questioned about the issue last month by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Maria Caulfield, who was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Health and Social Care on July 7, 2022, said that the NHS and NIHR had announced two clinical RCTs. 

BusinessCann contacted both the NHS and NIHR at the time, but was informed no further information was currently available. 

On July 5, Ms Caulfield was questioned once again regarding ‘what progress has been made to establish clinical trials’. 

She replied: “The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is developing a programme for two randomised controlled trials into epilepsy in adults and children. 

“The trials will commence as soon as possible, and the results will be published once the trials have completed and the findings have been peer reviewed. The NIHR encourages high quality proposals for research in this area as a priority and supports researchers to develop applications.”

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