Huge Rise In UK Medical Cannabis Imports As Private Sector Steps-Up To Meet Patient Demand


NEW Government figures show a 900% increase in the number of cannabis medicines notified for import demonstrating the private sector’s growing role in fulfilling UK demand.

Between March 1, and October 1, this year, the number of packs of unlicensed CBPMs (cannabis-based products for medicinal use) notified for import was 37,543, up from 3,741 in the previous 16 months.

Whilst, not all of these will have been actioned – and will be a function of a regulatory change to allow for bulk imports – it tallies with suggestions the number of private UK patients is now up to around 2,500.

The findings were published at the weekend in a report by the Advisory Council For the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), in a mandated review into the effectiveness of the UK medical cannabis regime.

Less Than Five Patients Through NHS

In a covering letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, dated November 27, Professor Owen Bowden-Jones, Chair of ACMD, highlights how less than five patients have been prescribed unlicensed CBPMs.

The report highlights how 800 patients a year received the UK’s three licensed cannabis products; Epidyolex, Nabilone and Sativex between 2017 and 2019, and says that number is now increasing.

It goes on to say that up to 224 private patients may have been treated with unlicensed CBPMs, whilst also highlighting concerns over the reliability of some of its data.

Industry experts approached by BusinessCann believe the number of private patients is somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500.

Pierre van Weperen, Managing Director, Grow Biotech, and CEO, Grow Pharma, put the number at 1,500. He said: “We have seen good growth recently due to a combination of factors including more prescribing doctors, initiatives such Open Cannabis, and a stable supply chain, which has helped cut prices.”

Speaking at the Prohibition Partners Live earlier this month Jonathan Nadler, Managing Director of the Lyphe Group, which runs the Medical Cannabis Clinics, said it has 1,000 patients on its books and it believes there are a further 1,000 being prescribed by the UK’s other private clinics.

Technology entrepreneur Gavin Sathianathan, founder of Alta Flora, the creators of Eva – a patient data app – highlights the flaws in the collection of private prescription data, acknowledged by the report’s authors.

“I believe they have extrapolated data they had until February 20 – before Covid-19 – which does not take into account the recent growth in the market especially due to the launch of Project Twenty21 and the relaxation of the import restrictions in March,” he said.

He believes there are now nearly 2,500 patients receiving prescriptions through private clinics with some 200 enrolled on Drug Science’s Project Twenty21.

The ACMD report entitled ‘Cannabis-based products for medicinal use (CBPMs) in humans’  found that the number of unlicensed CBPMs available has now risen from four, at the time of the 2018 law change, to 29. 

Patient Registry, Further Research

BusinessCann has reported previously how the private sector is stepping up to meet demand and one of the country’s largest suppliers Grow Pharma has a portfolio of over 20 medicines.

The report also looks into the lack of prescribing through the NHS saying:

  • There is a lack of safety and efficacy data for many unlicensed CBPMs
  • Prescribing unlicensed CBPMs is limited only to specialists on the register of the General Medical Council
  • The relatively high costs of unlicensed medicines – although the latest data shows these medicines are at least half the price of 12 months ago

It goes on to say that the increase in the prescribing of licensed cannabis medicines followed the publication of NICE guidance on ‘cannabis-based medicinal products’ and the granting of marketing authorisation for Epidyolex in the UK.

The report says progress is being made in establishing an NHS cannabis patent patient registry, and says there ‘has been little interest from manufactures of unlicensed CBPM to apply for regulatory approval’.

It goes on to say there has been an insufficient period of time to determine whether CBPMs have impacted on the prevalence of illicit cannabis use.

It recommends a further review in a couple of years and the need for further research.

Reprinted with the permission of BusinessCann


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