THE decision to allow doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients has been described as momentous by campaigners. It is also a long time overdue.

Sajid Javid took action quickly to launch a dual-pronged review of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis products when he became Home Secretary in April after years of insistence from his department that this would not happen.

For far too long, the debate was confused with completely separate issues surrounding recreational drugs. There seemed to be a paralysing fear that if ministers agreed with cannabis having the potential to be used as a medical product, that would somehow mean they were “soft on drugs” or suggesting cannabis should be legalised for recreational purposes.

As with many cases when repeated calls from academics or health experts fall on deaf ears, it took a few brave families fighting for their children to force through a change.

It was heartbreaking to see the lengths that the families of young epilepsy sufferers Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell were having to go to get hold of the cannabis oil which helped their conditions.

I have seen first hand the struggles of a desperately ill friend, wracked with pain and undergoing chemotherapy, who had to search the furthest corners of the internet to source the cannabis oil which would help her sleep on a night. When the oil was located, the quality and purity would vary hugely, making dosages impossible to guess.

Being able to access the oil through official medical channels would have taken one element of stress away from what was already a truly dreadful situation.

It is right that there will be strict controls on who can prescribe the new medicines, the criteria for receiving them, and the make-up of the products themselves while the evidence for their effectiveness builds.

But now that the government has taken this massive step, it needs the health profession to open its mind to the difference medicinal cannabis can make to people going through the toughest of times, otherwise patients will remain struggling on in the dark, as they have been for so long.

The Northern Echo:

MY favourite story of the week has been that of Mouhyedin Alkhalil – aka Falafel Fella.

The 26-year-old Syrian arrived in the UK less than two years ago after fleeing his war-torn homeland for Lebanon.

After the United Nations gave him the opportunity to move to the UK under a vulnerable persons resettlement programme, Mouhyedin ended up in Darlington where he was offered support by Darlington Assistance for Refugees (DAR).

He was taken under the wing of Fran and Martin Wood, with whom he now lives, and because of his determination to give back to the country which took him in.

Mouhyedin is soon launching his new business selling falafels and desserts created using traditional Syrian recipes. 

The North-East is famed for its friendliness, so it is brilliant to see a young man who has been through so much making the region his home, and not just living, but thriving.