Overview of Medical Cannabis in the UK: Current Status and Prospects

Written by Dr Green Jun 5, 2024

In November 2018, medical cannabis was approved in the UK, igniting hopes among patients for easier access through the National Health Service (NHS). However, the reality has been starkly different, with only 12 NHS prescriptions and fewer than 60 in total since then. 

This stands in sharp contrast to a 2020 survey by the Centre for Medical Cannabis, which found that 1.4 million people in the UK use illicit cannabis to manage medical conditions. 

This blog aims to unravel the complexities of medical cannabis legislation in the UK, the process of obtaining it, and the benefits and risks associated with its use.

Medical Cannabis Legislation in the UK

Cannabis was reclassified as a Schedule 2 drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act in 2018, allowing doctors to prescribe it under certain conditions. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines currently recommend cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) for specific conditions: Sativex for spasticity in multiple sclerosis, Nabilone for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and Epidyolex for severe treatment-resistant epilepsy.

Despite these guidelines, many patients and advocates argue that the scope is too narrow, excluding conditions like chronic pain which affects millions. The restrictive guidelines, combined with the limited scientific evidence supporting the use of cannabis for many conditions, contribute to the current disparity between patient demand and prescription rates.

Process of Obtaining Medical Cannabis in the UK

Obtaining medical cannabis in the UK involves navigating several hurdles:

Consultation: Patients must consult with a specialist doctor who has expertise in the condition for which medical cannabis is being considered. GPs cannot prescribe medical cannabis.

Prescription: The specialist must determine that the patient has an unmet clinical need that cannot be addressed by licensed medications. They then need to apply for approval from an NHS trust or obtain a private prescription.

Supply: Once a prescription is issued, the patient can access medical cannabis through pharmacies that are equipped to handle CBMPs. However, supply chain issues often mean that patients face delays in obtaining their medication.

Cost: Medical cannabis can be expensive, particularly for those obtaining it through private prescriptions. Costs can run into thousands of pounds annually, posing a significant financial burden for many patients.

Benefits of Using Medical Cannabis

Pain Management: There is substantial evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis for chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain. Patients report significant improvements in their quality of life and reductions in opioid use.

Spasticity in MS: Sativex, an oromucosal spray, has been shown to reduce spasticity in multiple sclerosis, improving mobility and overall comfort.

Epilepsy: Epidyolex has been approved for use in severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy, providing relief for patients who do not respond to conventional therapies.

Mental Health: While evidence is mixed, some patients report improvements in anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms when using medical cannabis.

Dr Green: Shaping the Future of Cannabis

At Dr Green, we leverage our extensive expertise and unique government partnerships to revolutionise the cannabis industry. 

Our state-of-the-art facilities in Portugal and innovative Digital Key smart contract system empower individuals to legally trade cannabis, driving global change in medical cannabis accessibility and legality.

Conclusion

The UK’s journey with medical cannabis is one marked by significant challenges and promising potential. While current legislation and processes hinder widespread access, the benefits for those who can obtain medical cannabis are profound. 

As research evolves and regulations adapt, the prospects for medical cannabis in the UK are set to improve, offering hope to millions of patients. At Dr Green, we are committed to advancing this cause and shaping a future where medical cannabis is accessible, affordable, and effective for all who need it.