The NHS in Wales is to become the first UK health service to make a cannabis-based drug available to Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients on prescription, health officials have confirmed.
Sativex is an oral spray composed of two chemical extracts - delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – which are derived from the cannabis plant.
The drug will be made available to Welsh NHS patients with MS after the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group approved its usage.
Wales' Health Minister Mark Drakeford said he hoped the spray would help ease the suffering of those who have to live with the reality of the neurological condition.
The decision was welcomed by Multiple Sclerosis Trust who hope it will prompt England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to adopt the same approach.
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Charity director Amy Bowen, said: “We are extremely pleased that people with MS in Wales will finally have better access to Sativex.
"As a charity we have campaigned over a long period for Sativex to be widely available because of the significant impact that MS spasticity can have on daily activities.
"We just hope that this recommendation will now lead to Sativex being more easily accessible in the rest of the UK."
But as cannabis is a class B drug and can only be lawfully possessed under a prescription issued by a qualified health professional, passing Sativex to someone else, unless that person is lawfully entitled to possess the drug, is a criminal offence.
A statement about the drug on the MS Trust's website says: “As Sativex is derived from cannabis, there were initial concerns that it might cause drug dependence, be psychoactive or cause withdrawal symptoms.
"However, studies into long-term use of Sativex in people with MS showed that sudden discontinuation of treatment did not result in any significant withdrawal-like symptoms although some people reported temporary changes in their sleeping patterns, mood or appetite following discontinuation.
"The lack of withdrawal symptoms suggests that dependence on the treatment is highly unlikely. In addition, Sativex did not affect cognition (thinking or memory) or induce any mental health problems at the doses used."
Wales Health Minister Professor Drakeford said: “Following the appraisal of Sativex by the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, I am pleased to announce we will be making the medicine available on the Welsh NHS to those who need it.
"I hope this decision will help ease the suffering of some of those who have to live with the reality of MS every day."
Additional reporting by PA