Monday, July 13News For London

Children’s use of medicinal cannabis sparks debate among Londoners

Londoners have been speaking out on the NHS’s decision to approve two new cannabis-based medicines to treat children with diseases like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS). 

Our reporter, Veronica-Sofia Nitu, interviewed people in residential London to find out what they thought of the NHS’s decision. Many differentiated between medicinal cannabis and recreational cannabis, and opinions were divided.

Some stressed the need for the treatment to be truly needed, proven to help and regulated by appropriate authorities. 

“I think if it helps, and they have proof that it helps, then they should [use medicinal cannabis to treat children],” said one mother outside the Portman Nursery School in Marylebone. 

One man who believes cannabis is usually prescribed irresponsibly said medical cannabis “needs to be properly governed.”

The two medicines approved by the NHS are Epidyolex and Sativex. 

Epidyolex will be used for two types of epileptic syndromes, Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet, which lead to multiple seizures a day and affect around 9,000 people in the UK. It contains cannabidiol (CBD) which could reduce seizures by up to 40% according to clinical trials. 

Sativex, a spray containing both CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), has been recommended for patients with multiple sclerosis who deal with muscle spasms. It will not, however, be prescribed to treat pain.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence signed off on the use of cannabis medicine by those suffering from epilepsy and MS, but did not agree that people with chronic pain should use drugs that contain THC, a psychoactive component found in cannabis. 

Parents of children with chronic pain have been particularly critical of this decision, as they affirm it is the use of the whole plant extract that has led to the most significant results in children.

Perhaps two of the most known proponents of this are the families of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley.

Billy, 12, came into the public eye when he arrived at Heathrow Airport with six months’ worth of cannabis oil treatment. The confiscation of his medicine caused public outcry. After starting the treatment he went 300 days without a seizure.

Alfie, seven, would have up to 500 critical seizures per month before he started treatment using a cannabis oil that could previously not be prescribed under the NHS. His ability to use full-leaf cannabis treatment has allowed him to resume daily activities he was once not able to do. 

Over 20,000 children suffer from rare forms of epilepsy that do not respond to traditional medical treatment. 

A resident interviewed near Abingdon House School commented: “Most of the drugs we use anyway have some sort of relaxants which are produced by pharmacies, so I don’t see why they [cannabis medicines] should be treated any differently to that. The effect is quite similar. It’s just a taboo that we have socially around it.”

The legalisation of recreational cannabis is also currently under discussion, a change which Mayor Sadiq Khan agrees with but the NHS does not believe will happen soon.