Concerns about both the potential harm to mental health and effectiveness of medical cannabis “is a major hurdle to prescribing”, according to an NHS England review.
It said more clinical trials need to be carried out and a “UK-wide paediatric specialist clinical network” should be created to help doctors by providing expert advice on complex cases.
The “forward-looking and positive review” was welcomed by the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society (MCCC), whose executive director is Hannah Deacon.
Her eight-year-old son Alfie Dingley, who suffers from severe epilepsy, was the first of just two patients in the UK to receive an NHS prescription for medical cannabis despite rule changes last year allowing doctors to prescribe it.
Parents say they cannot easily access the medicine without paying thousands of pounds for an import licence.
Professor Mike Barnes, a neurologist and chairman of the MCCC, said: “This is a positive review that recognises the need for accepting different but valid evidence for the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine.”
However campaigners criticised draft guidance also published on Thursday by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
It looked at the use of cannabis-based medicine for people undergoing chemotherapy, suffering from chronic pain, spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis and severe treatment-resistant epilepsy.
Nice said: “The committee were unable to make a recommendation about the use of cannabis-based medicines for severe treatment-resistant epilepsy because there was a lack of clear evidence that these treatments provide any benefits.”
Prof Barnes added: “It’s sad to compare this forward-looking and positive review of cannabis medicine by the NHS with sadly outdated draft Nice guidelines into cannabis-based medicinal products also released today.
“Nice has surely reached its sell-by date.”
Ms Deacon said: “This NHS review recognises that there is a blockage on prescriptions and makes some good recommendations of how the NHS can improve access for families such as mine.
“The contrast between these two very important publications is very worrying. There is no joined-up thinking and in the middle of all this mess there are vulnerable families with very sick children who are being left to suffer.”
The NHS report, titled Barriers to accessing cannabis-based products for medicinal use on NHS prescription, was commissioned by Health Secretary Matt Hancock after “heart wrenching” meetings with the parents of ill children.
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