CAMPAIGNERS are pushing for two cannabis-based drugs approved for the NHS in England to be made routinely available to eligible patients in Scotland as soon as possible.

Epilepsy medication, Epidyolex, and Sativex, a mouth spray which can ease multiple sclerosis symptoms, will be available on the NHS for the first time following new guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

The agency said Epidyolex can be prescribed to children with two rare but severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, which cause multiple seizures a day as well as learning disabilities. The conditions

The drug contains Cannabidiol (CBD), but not Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the psychoactive compound derived from cannabis.

In relation to Sativex, which contains a mixture of CBD and THC, the medicines agency said there was evidence to support its use to relieve muscles spasms and stiffness in MS patients, but not for pain relief.

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Neither drug is offered on the NHS in Scotland, currently, although a small number of patients have been able to access them through clinical trials or on compassionate grounds.

It will be up to the Scottish Medicines Consortium to make them available to the NHS in Scotland, but a spokeswoman said they were still awaiting applications.

She said: “We are currently awaiting submissions for Epidyolex for the treatment of seizures associated with Dravet syndrome and for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox Gastaut syndrome.

“We have not received a submission for Sativex.”

A spokeswoman for GW Pharma, who manufacture and market Epidyolex, said they expect to submit an application to the SMC in early December, meaning the earliest it could be approved would be in March.

A spokeswoman for Bayer, who hold the rights to market Sativex - which is also a GW Pharma product - said they would hold discussions with the SMC “in the coming weeks”.

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Anissa Tonberg, policy and external affairs manager for Epilepsy Scotland, said roughly two or three in every 500 children with epilepsy with have Dravet syndrome. Lennox-Gastuat syndrome is slightly more common, affecting between one and five in every 100 children with epilepsy.

She said that while Epidyolex could improve quality of life and mitigate developmental problems in children with few other options.

Ms Tonberg said: “These epilepsy syndromes are severe and the seizures associated with them are often resistant to treatments. They are associated with poor quality of life, learning disability and developmental problems and sadly sometimes mortality.

“Epidyolex, while not a magic cure, is a very welcome tool in treating these syndromes in children for whom there are currently limited meaningful treatment options.”

The MS Society has been campaigning for Sativex for years. Morna Simpkins, the charity’s Scotland director, said it was unacceptable Scottish patients were still missing out.

She said: “We implore the manufacturers to work with the SMC to make Sativex available for those who could benefit north of the border.

"MS is relentless, painful and disabling, and evidence shows cannabis-based treatments could help people with MS get relief from pain and spasms when other treatments haven’t worked for them.”

A change in the law in 2018 made it legal for doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis. Many have been reluctant to do so, however, citing a lack of clear guidance on prescribing and funding for the drugs.

This has led some families to go abroad for cannabis-based medicines instead.

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HeraldScotland:

CASE STUDY

MAXINE Thompson says taking Sativex for the first time was like "switching my life back on again".

The Glasgow University student first tried the drug as part of a clinical trial in 2008, while she was living in England.

Ms Thompson, 51, said: “First taking Sativex was like switching my life back on again. I had been having spasms and stiffness in my hands and feet and was unable to walk but once I had the spray I was able to stand and walk again."

She later moved to Glasgow and in 2012 became one of a small number of MS patients in Scotland to be prescribed the drug following a successful individual patient request by her consultant, on the grounds that it had successfully eased her symptoms.

Ms Thompson takes it daily, before bed, to enable her to sleep through the night with painful spasms and muscle stiffness.

She said: “As with any medicine there can be side effects and that’s something I’ve learned to manage but that just underlines the need for safe and regulated access to treatments that are right for people.

"The idea that people feel the need to go out and access cannabis illegally just to manage their condition is unacceptable particularly when I’ve experienced the benefits of Sativex first-hand.

“The impact on my life has been enormous. Not just for my physical wellbeing but for almost every aspect of my life.

"I can head to the shops, get out with friends more often and attend lectures more easily.

“Having felt the benefits I find it hard to see the downsides. We’re talking about safe and controlled access to this treatment so people can manage their symptoms.

"Compared to some other treatments I’ve accessed the side effects are much less and the positives are so great."