Ex-minister lends support to medicinal cannabis campaign


A former Home Office minister has lent his support to a campaign to legalise medical cannabis as a new study found that a compound in the drug may help to curb the frequency of epileptic seizures.

Former Home Office and Justice Minister Sir Mike Penning has backed the End Our Pain campaign amid calls for the Government to allow a six-year-old boy to be given cannabis to treat his rare form of epilepsy.

The parents of Alfie Dingley want the Government to let him use cannabis oil, a banned substance in the UK, to help with his symptoms.

And now a new study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, found that seizures may be reduced by a naturally occurring compound found in cannabis.

Alfie's mother Hannah Deacon told the Press Association that the new research adds further evidence "that medical cannabis has a role in treating a range of conditions".

In comments released to the Press Association, Sir Mike, the Conservative MP for Hemel Hempstead, urged the Home Office to give Alfie a special licence to use medicinal cannabis in the UK.

"I have a huge amount of sympathy for Alfie Dingley and his family who are suffering because of the restrictions imposed by our current drug laws which prevent the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes," he said.

"When I was Police and Justice Minister in the Home Office, I stated clearly in the House of Commons that there needs to be a legalised method of provision for cannabis so that it may be used to treat illnesses like multiple sclerosis and severe epilepsy.

"However, in my view, there is substantial scientific evidence showing that cannabis is a harmful drug and, in its street form, is a gateway drug for many users.

"But surely in the 21st century, we can find an acceptable way to separate the two so that patients who gain relief from the use of the drug are legally and safely able to do so whilst recreational use is still restricted.

"Alfie's situation is desperately urgent and he is unique being the only known boy in the UK with his particular form of epilepsy.

"Only this weekend, he was re-admitted to hospital with a cluster of seizures each of which is potentially life-threatening.

"There is a strong feeling that current Home Office Ministers are minded to grant him the special licence that he needs.

"I urge them to grant that licence and grant it immediately."

Hannah Deacon said the study added to the 'overwhelming body of evidence' supporting medicinal cannabis (Maggie Deacon/PA)

The comments come as experts from King's College London and Australia released findings of a systematic review of evidence on using cannabis and cannabinoids as an "add on" treatment for epilepsy.

Researchers examined 36 studies which included data on more than 3,000 patients with an average age of 16.

They found that Cannabidiol (CBD) - a naturally occurring compound found in cannabis - was more effective than a placebo at reducing seizure frequency by at least 50% and was found to improve quality of life.

Meanwhile some patients even reported being seizure free, though this was rare.

But patients did have an increase risk of side effects including drowsiness and fatigue.

The authors concluded: "Pharmaceutical-grade CBD as adjuvant treatment in paediatric-onset drug-resistant epilepsy may reduce seizure frequency."

But they cautioned that most of the evidence is from studies involving children with rare and severe epilepsy.

Thank you once again for your continued support @richardbranson. Everyone can help people suffering like Alfie by following this link: https://t.co/95CkY6X7wz and emailing your MP. #alfieshope#endourpainhttps://t.co/V3t4NOKvxr

-- End Our Pain (@End_Our_Pain) March 6, 2018

Commenting on the study, Ms Deacon, from Kenilworth in Warwickshire, said: "This adds further to what is becoming an overwhelming body of evidence that medical cannabis has a role in treating a range of conditions including severe epilepsy.

"As regards my son Alfie, I have seen first-hand the evidence that a blend of CBD and THC [two components in cannabis] brings him dramatic and sustained relief from his life-threatening seizures.

"That's why we are so desperate for the Home Office to grant the special licence that he needs to use here in the UK the medical cannabis that worked so well for him for over four months in Holland under the supervision of a consultant paediatric neurologist.

"The delay is causing us unnecessary stress and putting Alfie's life needlessly in danger."

Cannabis oil is currently illegal in the UK, despite being available for medical purposes throughout Europe, including in the Netherlands where Alfie and his family spent more than four months paying for treatment.

The Home Office has previously said it would consider a medical cannabis trial as an option for Alfie.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The Government has a huge amount of sympathy for the rare and difficult situation that Alfie and his family are faced with.

"The Policing Minister wants to explore every option and has met with Alfie's family to discuss treatments that may be accessible for him.

"No decisions have been made and any proposal would need to be led by senior clinicians using sufficient and rigorous evidence."