Cannabis (Therapeutic Use)

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 12th July 1995.

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Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea 2:22 pm, 12th July 1995

I must press on in an attempt to deal with the points that have been made.

A relevant consideration is whether the benefits of the drug are sufficient to outweigh the risks, which is why companies seeking to market drugs have to provide evidence of their safety, efficacy and quality.

The form in which cannabis would need to be available for use as a medicinal product in a controlled dose is another consideration. As the hon. Member for Newport, West said, nobody wants to see reefers being prescribed. The matter of form is also in the first instance for a company seeking to market such a product.

The representations that I have received include a wealth of anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of cannabis in treating some of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and other conditions. In matters as important as those affecting people's health, however, scientific research-based evidence is what we need. Although the hon. Gentleman predicted that I would say that we needed more research, such a statement has to be right. As yet, conclusions of available research are not very convincing owing to the limited scope of the projects, the use of small cohort groups or the lack of suitable scientific methodology.

It may be that further research is needed, and I understand that the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is taking positive steps to encourage trials by offering support to researchers. The main agency through which the Government sponsor medical research—the Medical Research Council—is always willing to consider scientifically sound proposals.

It may be helpful if I also remind the hon. Gentleman that current legislation does not prevent research into the medicinal use of cannabis, provided that a Home Office licence has been obtained for that purpose. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no difference between the Home Office and the Department of Health on this matter. For the purposes of a clinical trial which involves the sale or supply of medicinal products and various other specified activities, a clinical trial certificate or a clinical trial certificate exemption would also have to be obtained from the Medicines Control Agency.

We are aware of the distress experienced by people suffering from multiple sclerosis and other conditions and we have been carefully considering the representations that have been made. I remind the hon. Gentleman, however, that we are committed to ensuring that patients receive the drugs that they need to treat their clinical conditions. If a medicine is brought forward and approved by the MCA, the controls under the Misuse of Drugs Act—for which the Home Office is responsible—could be modified to make such a medicine available to patients. If the regulations were amended, the decision to prescribe a particular drug would depend on the clinical judgment of the doctor concerned. The trouble is that we have not yet reached either of those two stages, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall watch developments carefully and fairly.