High hopes: Cannabis grown in Norfolk could soon be available on NHS prescription

British Sugar plant in Wissington is cultivating cannabis plants that will be used as a key ingredie

British Sugar plant in Wissington is cultivating cannabis plants that will be used as a key ingredient in a new prescription medicine. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press

Cannabis grown legally in Norfolk could soon be available on prescription in the UK.

British Sugar has been growing a non-psychoactive variety of the cannabis plant at its Wissington factory site since 2016, under contract from GW Pharmaceuticals, to produce the active ingredient for the company’s new cannabidiol (CBD) oral solution.

Home secretary Sajid Javid has declared that it will be legal for doctors to prescribe cannabis-based drugs from November 1.

The cannabis plants grown at Wissington had been grown for the international medicinal market, under licence from the UK home office, but bosses are now hopeful of being able to offer their cannabis-derived medicine on prescription in this country.

The Norfolk-grown plants were used in a product known as Epidiolex in the US, where it was approved earlier this year for prescription by the medicines regulator, the FDA.

Chris Tovey, chief operating officer of GW Pharmaceuticals, said: “GW Pharmaceuticals’ CBD medicine is currently under regulatory review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and we are hopeful of securing approval in early 2019.

“Following approval and discussions with NICE [The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] in the UK, our aim is to make the medicine available on prescription to suitable patients as soon as we possibly can.

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“GW Pharmaceuticals, a British-based company, passionately believes in the potential therapeutic benefits of the cannabis plant and has spent the last 20 years undertaking pioneering scientific investigations and extensive clinical trials with a view to helping seriously ill patients with clear unmet need.

“We welcome the focus on this important area of medicine and the government’s reforms, and hope this will encourage increasing levels of research and clinical trials in the UK.”

The Norfolk site is involved only in the growing of CBD which forms the basis of the medicines.

The medicines themselves are manufactured in GW Pharmaceuticals’s Kent site, and the research and clinical trials takes place in Cambridge.

The issue of medicinal cannabis products was thrust into the headlines in the summer, after the families of several young epilepsy sufferers highlighted their struggles to access cannabis oil, which had appeared to soothe their symptoms.