Thanks to emergency legislation published by the government, patients in the United Kingdom have begun receiving medical cannabis through the post, according to a report by the BBC.
The new measures were passed by the government on Wednesday, as the ongoing restrictions due to the Covid-19 outbreak have left many unable to legally access the drug in any other way.
Many medical cannabis users suffer from chronic pain, often relying on private clinics, or permission to travel abroad to collect prescriptions. However, this has become impossible as restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus have been put in place.
The move allows patients to continue accessing controlled drugs for the duration of the pandemic, from local pharmacies, without a prescription.
A Home Office official said the measures would “relieve pressure on our healthcare system and encourage people to stay at home”.
But Andy Yates, a pharmacist at industry body the Centre for Medical Cannabis, told the BBC that because the changes applied to “ongoing” NHS treatment only, it would probably exclude almost all medical cannabis users, which he described as an “oversight”.
In the report, the BBC spoke to Lara Smith, a patient who has been using dronabinol, a form of medical cannabis, to manage pain from a damaged spinal cord since 2014.
Lara had been travelling, with express legal permission, to Holland every three months to collect her prescription, but this became impossible as restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus were put into force.
Before taking cannabis, Lara relied on heavy opiates, including fentanyl – a synthetic opioid many times stronger than heroin – but she would never return to them. “They took away my personality, my thinking capacity, my memory,” she told the BBC, as well as causing vomiting, confusion and mood swings.
Since the lockdown, unable to travel or see her NHS consultant, Lara has resorted to using a private clinic, which held a consultation over the phone and sent her cannabis via courier – an option not previously available.
Cannabis Access Clinics, a London private clinic that provides access to specialist doctors with experience prescribing cannabis-based products, has relaxed its rules in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, allowing online consultations. It says that the new rules have also allowed it to lower prices, Previously, patients had to meet specialists every 28 days. Even in normal circumstances, this can be challenging for people who often have pain and mobility issues.
As well as existing users, Dr Samuel Murray, who works for the private clinic, says he is working with patients with chronic pain, who, having had operations cancelled due to coronavirus, are turning to medical cannabis for the first time.
The clinic works with one of the country’s biggest suppliers, Grow Pharma, which has widened its range of medicines and lowered its prices in response to the crisis.