"From today you can get cannabis on the NHS," read one tabloid headline this morning, following the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in the UK.
And yes, doctors will indeed be able to prescribe cannabis products to patients. But what products, to whom?
There are no limits on product types, as long as they are medicines for human consumption and have a good manufacturing practice certification. However, products that meet this criteria are limited within an extremely narrow framework, and in any case, they'll be a lot different to that Canadian medical weed that made you go temporarily blind that one time.
Nonetheless, a full range of THC strengths – including some which could get you stoned – will be available largely in the form of oils on the NHS to adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy and muscle stiffness due to spasticity, as well as children with rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
The most likely initial products will come from Tilray and Bedrocan, companies which already have import licenses following the high-profile campaigns to secure Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell access to medical cannabis. For instance, Alfie Dingley currently takes Bedrocan oil, Bedrolite CBD and Bedica.
Bedrocan is made up of sativa strains and has a 22 percent THC content; Bedica contains indica, with 14 percent THC; Bedrobinol has 13.5 percent THC; Bedrolite contains 9 percent CBD and less than 1 percent THC, while Bedoil is almost balanced at 8 percent CBD and 6.3 percent THC.
Experts told VICE that Bedrocan – the only company licensed by the Dutch Ministry of Health to produce cannabis "flos" (the whole, dried female flower) – have already reached the limit on the volume of cannabis products it can export. They are working on getting permission from the government to exceed that amount.
Tilray also have a range of THC-dominant, CBD-dominant and THC/CBD balance oils. "Tilray extracts start with meticulously grown cannabis before undergoing a state-of-the-art cold extraction process designed to preserve delicate cannabinoid and terpene content and to deliver a pure, aromatic and effective product," the spiel on their website reads.
The Canadian pharmaceutical company, whose stock rose dramatically last month – 32 percent in one day – also cultivates and produces a range of dried cannabis products. It remains to be seen whether doctors will look to prescribe these products, given the longstanding health risks around smoking.
There are various other companies that are also looking to serve the British medicinal market, such as Canopy Growth, Aurora and up to half a dozen others.
While signalling a considerable step towards the progressive moves being made around the world when it comes to cannabis laws, the reforms have not satisfied many.
"The unnecessarily restrictive recommendations will leave thousands, possibly millions, of patients in the UK with no choice but to continue to source their effective cannabis medicine from the black market," says Jon Liebling, political director at the United Patients Alliance. "This cannot possibly be as good or safe as being able to access a standardised, quality-controlled medicine."
The NHS guidance to clinicians states that all cannabis-based products for medicinal use – apart from Sativex, which has a market authorisation – are considered unlicensed medicines. However, these will be able to be prescribed medicinally where there is an "unmet clinical need" not served by other pharmaceuticals.
Sativex is an anti-spasticity drug already licensed in the UK to treat spasticity, but doctors will not be able to prescribe the drug, which comes in the form of a mouth spray, to MS patients.
An anti-epileptic drug, Epidiolex, is manufactured by GW Pharma in the UK and recently gained FDA breakthrough status. However, it does not contain THC, the psychoactive compound of cannabis that many patients require, and it will not be on sale until next year.
Today's changes are certainly a start, but for patients who vaporise weed to treat conditions such as Crohn's disease, or to manage chronic pain, they might not go far enough.