Laws and Regulations News

UK Family Challenges NHS Cannabis Guidelines in Court

Written by Jason Sander

A family in the United Kingdom (UK) is challenging guidelines laid out by the National Health Service (NHS) with regards to their medical cannabis policy. Three-year-old Charlie Hughes suffered up to 120 seizures daily before being treated with medical cannabis oil. After treatment, the young boy was down to less than 20 seizures a day. Medical cannabis was legalized in the UK in 2018, but the establishment of a widespread program has been stalled and few prescriptions have been written.

According to the current NHS guidelines laid out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), there is “not enough evidence” for doctors to recommend cannabis medicine for severe conditions like the one that Charlie has, a rare epileptic disorder known as West syndrome. This is especially concerning to hear, as a prescription formulation of CBD, Epidiolex®, is approved in the UK as a treatment for two severe forms of epilepsy–however, these conditions do not include West syndrome.

Before successfully reducing his seizures, Charlie was prescribed six different epileptic drugs, which were not effective. Charlie’s parents, Ali and Matt Hughes, told the BBC that they were out of options before his son was prescribed medical cannabis. These positive developments caused Charlie’s parents to become outspoken about what they see as a need for policy reform.

The attorney working on the Hughes family’s case, Nusrat Zar, is campaigning for policy change. Zar says that NHS doctors are concerned about prescribing cannabis and do not feel confident in doing so, despite there being no recommendation against it.

The current NICE guidelines state that the proof of cannabis’ safety, as well as the evidence for its effectiveness as a medical treatment, are limited. Zar contends that NICE was lacking proper consultation from doctors and medical professionals when the guidelines were produced. This is the first legal challenge to the guidelines.

NICE offered no comment on what they called “an ongoing legal matter.”

The charge toward greater availability of medical cannabis in the US was led by similar families, most notably the Figis, whose famous fight for their daughter Charlotte led to signifcant policy changes and awareness of the benefits of cannabis medicine for children with epilepsy.

Image Credit: Ezequiel Octaviano

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Jason Sander