UK signals changes on medicinal cannabis use after epileptic boy's case

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government will look into possible changes to rules on the use of cannabis-based medicines, a minister said on Monday, after an epileptic boy whose medication was confiscated was hospitalized.

FILE PHOTO: Charlotte Caldwell, and her son Billy, stand outside the Home Office during a break in a meeting with officials to discuss how Billy can have his severe epilepsy treated with cannabis oil, which is a banned substance in Britain, in London, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

Interior minister Sajid Javid used an exceptional power on Saturday to release medicinal cannabis oil that had been taken from Billy Caldwell, 12, by customs officials at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Billy’s mother, Charlotte Caldwell, had been pleading for the medication to be given back because without it her son suffered from life-threatening seizures.

“This case .. has shone a light on the use of cannabis medicine in this country and highlighted the need for the government to explore the issue further, and our handling of these issues further,” said Nick Hurd, a junior minister in charge of policing.

“As a first step, I can announce today that the government is establishing an expert panel of clinicians to advise ministers on any individual applications to prescribe cannabis-based medicines,” he told parliament.

Under British law, cannabis is listed as a schedule 1 drug, meaning that it is not recognized as having a therapeutic value. Schedule 1 drugs can be used for research purposes and clinical trials but only under a Home Office license.

“I recognize the need to ensure that the approach to licensing works more effectively,” Hurd said.

Billy Caldwell had been receiving medicinal cannabis oil on prescription by his family doctor for more than a year, but supplies ran out after the interior ministry ordered the doctor to stop prescribing it.

Charlotte Caldwell and her son, who normally live in Northern Ireland, made a round trip to Canada to buy more supplies, but the oil was confiscated by customs when they re-entered Britain.

Billy was hospitalized days later, suffering from seizures. His condition improved after the medicinal cannabis oil was handed back and on Monday he was discharged from hospital.

Several members of parliament from different parties voiced support for the Caldwell family and to the idea of loosening the rules on therapeutic uses of cannabis in responses to Hurd’s statement on Monday.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Michael Holden