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Cannabis-derived medicinal products to be made available on prescription

As announced by the Home Secretary Sajid Javid, specialist clinicians will be able to legally prescribe cannabis-derived medicinal products by the autumn. The Home Secretary also announced that “This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need but is in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use.”

What is a cannabis-derived medicinal product?

This has yet to be defined but cannabis is made up of 100’s of active chemicals known as cannabinoids. Two key compounds are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the main psychoactive cannabinoid and CBD (Cannabidiol) which is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Both these compounds are normally used in cannabis-derived medicinal products which have been shown to benefit patients with multiple sclerosis, childhood epilepsy or the treatment for some forms of cancer.

The Department for Health and Social Care and the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency will develop a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product so they can be rescheduled and prescribed. Only products meeting this definition will be rescheduled. Other forms of cannabis will be kept under strict controls and will not be available on prescription.

What is an exceptional clinical need?

This has yet to be defined, but we would expect that the current approved cannabis-derived medication used in other countries will be the basis for this medication.

What does this mean for the workplace and does this affect my Alcohol and Drug Policy?

As announced, the cannabis-derived medication will only be prescribed to patients with an exceptional clinical need and although this is yet to be defined, it is unlikely that many, if any employees, will fall within this definition.  

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has recommended that products meeting a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product should be placed in Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 which also includes cocaine, methadone, codeine and morphine amongst many other medicines.

Therefore, should an employee fall within the definition of exceptional clinical need, they would be required to inform the company as part of their responsibility within the policy, as the cannabis-derived medication is likely to impair them when at work.

An Alcohol and Drug Policy already has wording that covers an employee’s responsibility regarding their use of medication that could impair them at work and the introduction of cannabis-derived medication will not change this.

Will an employee fail a drug test if they are prescribed cannabis-derived medication when it is made available?

Currently, if an employee is taking medication, they will be asked to declare their medication when a drug test is carried out, this will be the same if they are prescribed cannabis-derived medication.

As with other drugs, the laboratory can determine if the drug is a medication or an illegal drug. In the event of a positive laboratory analysis result where medication could be a reason, a Medical Review Officer will carry out a review of the result with the laboratory and if necessary the employee and will confirm whether the result is due to cannabis-derived medication or illegal cannabis.

Summary

There will be further clarification on what an exceptional clinical need is and a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product but it is not expected that this change to the use of cannabis will make a difference to the workplace.

We will provide further update and clarification when new announcements are made, but in the meantime, if you have any queries regarding this issue, please do not hesitate to contact one of our advisors on 01827 65999 and we will be happy to help.