Medical Cannabis Awareness Week (MCAW) kicked off yesterday with the first in a number of events that are scheduled to take place across the week. This year’s week-long event also marks the fourth anniversary of medical cannabis legalisation in the UK – the result of years of passionate campaigning and lobbying by patients and activists. On 1st November 2018, the UK government finally acknowledged the medicinal potential of cannabis by rescheduling the drug. The move finally permitted specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis-based medicines to patients with a number of conditions.  

Four years on from this landmark event, however, potentially millions of people across the UK are still struggling to access medical cannabis. Incredibly, only three medical cannabis prescriptions have been approved through the NHS in this time. One of these prescriptions belongs to Alfie Dingley – the first patient in the UK to be granted access to medical cannabis on the NHS. Alfie, who has a rare form of treatment-resistant epilepsy, is approaching 1,000 days seizure-free. In contrast, Alfie regularly experienced over 150 seizures in a day prior to initiating medical cannabis treatment. 

Alfie’s mother, Hannah Deacon, has become a well-known face in medical cannabis advocacy. After securing the first medical cannabis prescription for her son in June 2018, Ms Deacon continued to advocate for patient access to these potentially life-saving medicines. In 2020, Ms Deacon co-founded MedCan Support, a non-profit company that provides free resources and educational materials on medical cannabis to support patients and clinicians. But like many other campaigners, Ms Deacon is calling on the government to do more to improve patient access to medical cannabis. 

In an interview with the Metro, Hannah said: “Some people have no choice but to spend £24,000 a year during a cost-of-living crisis just to keep their child safe. 

“We see families fundraising, which is demoralising, but others are going to the illegal market, where they don’t know what’s in the product and they are risking prosecution. 

“As many as 1.8 million people use illegal cannabis for medical reasons. The Government has a responsibility to keep them safe.” 

Medical Cannabis Legislation in the UK 

While medical cannabis was only legalised in 2018, the UK has been a big player in medical cannabis production for years – even while the government refused to acknowledge the medicinal potential of the plant. In fact, the UK has consistently been one of the biggest exporters of medical cannabis in the world. With the 2018 law change, it was hoped that this disparity would finally be addressed; but in reality, patient access to medical cannabis remains restricted for many. 

Under the current laws, medical cannabis can technically be prescribed for any condition for which there is evidence it may be useful; however, it is recommended that cannabis-based medicines only be considered if other treatments have proven ineffective. Furthermore, medical cannabis prescriptions can only be approved by specialist clinicians. When combined with the fact that very few doctors in the UK are trained in medical cannabis and the endocannabinoid system, it becomes clear why there remains such a deadlock on patient access even four years after legalisation. 

medical cannabis legalisation UK

In a world where cannabis reform is seemingly gaining more traction every week, the UK is in danger of being left behind. In Europe alone, a number of countries have announced plans to introduce legal access to recreational cannabis products. Germany is set to become the largest cannabis market in the world and Malta, Switzerland, and Luxembourg also taking steps toward legalisation. Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden recently announced the expungement of simple cannabis prosecutions.  

Medical Cannabis Awareness Week 2022 

It is clear that continued campaigning is needed to build the necessary support in parliament and government to further progress patient access to cannabis-based medicines. This need is what makes events like Medical Cannabis Awareness Week (MCAW) so important. MCAW was established by Patient-Led Engagement for Access (PLEA), to provide an “opportunity for patients, doctors and organisations to pledge their commitment to education, awareness and support for fair access to medical cannabis.” 

Medical Cannabis Awareness Week 2022 will feature a number of events, from patient conferences to expert analyses and industry insights. The week-long event kicked off yesterday with ‘Medical Cannabis Research on Paediatric Epilepsy’ from 6:00 – 7:30 pm. On Friday, Drug Science, an independent, science-led drugs charity, will host the UK Patient Conference.  

Drug Science brings together leading drugs experts from a wide range of specialisms to carry out ground-breaking research into drug harms and effects. Since 2010, the charity has been at the forefront of drug research in the UK. Drug Science is also behind Project Twenty21, the largest observational medical cannabis study in the UK. The aim of Project Twenty21 is to gather real-world evidence to support improved access to cannabis-based medicines for patients who could benefit from them. 

Full event details for Medical Cannabis Awareness Week 2022 can be found on PLEA’s website