The NHS is drawing up plans to manufacture medicinal cannabis itself for the first time in preparation for a clinical trial for children with severe epilepsy, The Telegraph has learnt.
Medical cannabis was legalised in 2018 following a campaign by parents with severely ill children, who say cannabis oil prevents them from having hundreds of life-threatening seizures each day.
But since the legalisation, no NHS prescriptions have been issued, with doctors concerned there is insufficient evidence of its effectiveness.
Patients have instead been forced to rely on private prescriptions, which they say cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds a month.
In an attempt to clear the logjam, the NHS has established plans to manufacture cannabis oil itself in preparation for a clinical trial, expected early next year.
Medical bosses hope a successful trial will give doctors the evidence base needed to write free prescriptions for epileptic children in the UK.
In a letter to a group of MPs concerned about access to medical cannabis, Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director of NHS England, said health bosses “continue to engage with the small number of manufacturers who are able to produce suitable medicines to support the trial and are exploring NHS manufacture”.
“Progress has been made on the design and approval of a randomised clinical trial in refractory epilepsy, where the effectiveness of cannabis-based medicinal products can be assessed,” he wrote.
“This trial will be critical to ensuring that the evidence base for cannabis-based medicinal products can be developed to support future commissioning decisions.”
No final decisions have been made, but the plans could see the NHS growing its own cannabis and manufacturing oil containing THC, the compound in cannabis plants that makes recreational users “high”.
THC is combined with CBD, another legal cannabis compound, to create oil that can reduce seizures in severely epileptic children and ease the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS).