New Data Suggests NHS Licenced Cannabis-Based Medicine Prescriptions Are On The Rise This Year

NEW UK government data suggest that the number of NHS prescriptions for ‘licenced’ cannabis-based medicines could rise significantly this year. 

The data, released upon request to Parliament by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last month, provides the first insight into the number of prescriptions issued by both private practitioners and the NHS in 2022. 

It comes as the UK’s estimated 1.4m patients now face a significant decrease in real-incomes driven by the looming cost of living crisis, threatening their ability to access medical cannabis via private prescriptions. 

While the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) revealed it was set to launch two randomised control trials into cannabis ‘as soon as possible’ in early July, seen as a key step forward in expanding prescriptions on the NHS, no official information or update on these trials has yet been released. 

New Figures

The new figures were revealed following a request from Lord Field of Birkenhead last month for the latest data on ‘how many prescriptions for cannabis’ have been issued in England since 2018, when medical cannabis was officially made legal. 

Since 2018, the NHS has approved just three prescriptions for unlicenced cannabis medicines for children with treatment-resistant epilepsy. 

Unlicenced products are those which have not been fully assessed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and include drugs such as Bedrolite and Bedica. 

Most cannabis patients and their clinicians prefer the unlicenced medicines which allow for a greater diversity in prescriptions based on relevant THC and CBD ratios.

Though access to unlicenced medicines via the NHS shows little sign of improving any time soon, the number of prescriptions for licenced cannabis medicines have been rising slowly over the past four years. 

Currently there are three licenced cannabis medicines available in the UK, including Nabilone, Sativex and Epidyolex, with both of the latter two drugs being produced by GW Pharmaceuticals, now owned by Jazz Pharmaceuticals. 

NHS Prescriptions of Licenced Cannabis-based Medicines 

Date2018201920202021Jan – Apr 2022
No. of prescriptions2,5912,6362,6812,9811,171

The latest data shows the slow but steady increase in prescriptions since 2018, rising 15% between 2018 and 2021. 

While data on licenced prescriptions is only available for the first quarter of 2022, an extrapolated run rate suggests that licenced prescriptions could reach 4684 by the end of the year, representing an 80% increase. 

Privately Prescribed Licenced and Unlicenced Cannabis-based Medicines 

Date2018201920202021Jan – Apr 2022
Unlicenced02784,46942,393(Jan only) 385

Conversely, the data reveals a potential decline in private unlicenced prescriptions in the UK, which topped 1000 in January 2021. 

However, as it is not clear whether the data available covers January 2022 partially or entirely, no concrete conclusions can be drawn. 

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