Doctors told: Don’t give out cannabis-based drugs for chronic pain

Cannabis-based drugs should not be prescribed to manage chronic pain, draft official guidance says.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) made the draft recommendation after finding the “potential benefits offered were small compared with the high and ongoing costs”.

The guidance follows concerns about medical cannabis from senior medical experts including the head of NHS England.

None recommended

NICE said its recommendations were focused on understanding the drugs’ safety and cost effectiveness.

It considered the use of cannabis-based products for chronic pain, spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and severe epilepsy.

While it did recommend considering one such drug for a specific type of vomiting, no cannabis-based drugs were recommended for pain or spasticity. NICE called for more research on epilepsy.


Paul Chrisp, a senior director at NICE, said before the analysis the organisation believed a “robust evidence base for these mostly unlicensed products was probably lacking”.

“Having now considered all the available evidence it’s therefore not surprising that the committee has not been able to make many positive recommendations about their use.”

Dr Keith Ridge, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at NHS England, said related recommendations released by the NHS “aim to help us develop the evidence base to understand how safe these products are”.


In May, the head of NHS England warned that medical cannabis risks “normalising drug use” in the UK.

Simon Stevens said: “I think we have to be careful, as we have a legitimate national debate on medical cannabis, that we don’t look back in a decade’s time and wonder whether we inadvertently made a big mistake.”

Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, warned in March that people believed medicinal cannabis can cure multiple illnesses but it should only be prescribed as a “last resort”.

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