Licensing cannabis for medical use

This week I met with the family of six-year-old Alfie Dingley who came to Parliament to plea for the medical use of cannabis to treat his condition.

Alfie has a severe form of epilepsy which is so rare that he’s the only boy in the UK with it.  His family say that on some particularly bad months he has had up to 150 life-threatening seizures. 

They’ve tried the treatment which is available in the UK (IV steroids), but even his doctors have said they cause Alfie mental and physical harm. Their use could lead to his premature death.

Out of desperation, the Dingleys took Alfie to the Netherlands.  Under the careful supervision of a consultant neuro-paediatrician, he was given medical cannabis.  It managed to reduce his seizures to less than one severe episode a month.

Cannabis is not currently recognised in the UK as having any medicinal benefits.  The only time it is legal to possess cannabis is for research purposes.  Such research may one day bring about a suitable medicine for Alfie.  But this doesn’t help him now.

The Government monitors the World Health Organisation’s expert committee on drug dependence, which has committed to reviewing the use of medicinal cannabis.  I think we all understand that there are processes which have to be gone though to ensure that medicines are safe.

But in this case it seems pretty clear that medical cannabis works for Alfie, and he cannot wait.  It’s hard to see why he shouldn’t be able to continue to use it under the similar close supervision by a consultant that applied in the Netherlands.

There is a wider issue about whether cannabis should be decriminalised.  I think that’s worthy of debate, but the question of the medical use of cannabis is a distinct one.  And as Alfie’s father told me, the family’s only goal is to get the help their son needs here in the UK so that they do not have to go to the Netherlands again.

I know that Home Office ministers have been listening very sympathetically to the family’s plea, and the Prime Minister, too, met Alfie and his family this week, after which there were reports that a licence would be granted for him.

Many of my constituents have written to me about this issue, and I know they share my hope that this decision will be made.

Alexander Black