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Medical Cannabis in the UK Explained

Medical Cannabis in the UK

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Medical Cannabis in the UK: Navigating the Rules and Availability

In England, obtaining an NHS prescription for medical cannabis is extremely rare. Only a few people can access it due to stringent regulations, even when the medicine could potentially provide significant benefits. For example, Epidyolex is prescribed only for severe conditions like Lennox-Gastaut syndrome1.

Cannabis treatments such as Nabilone and Nabiximols (Sativex) are also difficult to obtain. A specialist doctor must prescribe them due to potential risks like psychosis or addiction associated with THC. These medications must undergo rigorous testing before approval for use.

Additionally, selling or possessing cannabis without a prescription is illegal in the UK, emphasising the strict control over cannabis-based medicines1

However, private medical cannabis clinics provide an alternative route, making it significantly easier for patients to obtain prescriptions compared to the stringent NHS process.

Key Takeaways

  • Medical cannabis can be prescribed in the UK for very specific medical conditions.
  • Only specialist doctors can prescribe cannabis-based medicines, ensuring strict regulation.
  • THC-containing cannabis products require clinical trials due to potential risks.
  • Possession of cannabis without a prescription remains illegal in the UK.
  • Side effects of medical cannabis can range from decreased appetite to hallucinations.

Medical Cannabis in the UK

Introduction to Medical Cannabis in the UK

In 2018, the United Kingdom made a significant move by legalising medical cannabis for patients with conditions that other treatments could not address. Licensed pharmacies in the UK can now dispense cannabis-based medicines in various forms, such as oils or flowers. However, NHS prescriptions for medical cannabis remain scarce, and purchasing cannabis products online can be risky and illegal. 

In contrast, private medical cannabis clinics offer an alternative route, making it significantly easier for patients to obtain prescriptions compared to the stringent NHS process.

Specialist doctors in the UK are authorised to prescribe medical cannabis primarily for patients with chronic pain and severe conditions. For example, Nabilone can help adults experiencing chemotherapy-induced nausea, while Nabiximols (Sativex) addresses muscle stiffness in multiple sclerosis patients. Epidyolex is used for severe epilepsy cases.

Despite these advancements, medical cannabis use in the UK is still in its early stages, with limited evidence supporting its effectiveness for certain pain types. The UK government has no plans to legalise recreational cannabis, maintaining strict regulations on non-medical use1.

Current Medical Cannabis Prescription Laws

Since 1 November 2018, specialist doctors in the UK have been allowed to prescribe cannabis-based medicines. This policy change followed a review by the Home Secretary, driven by urgent cases of children with severe epilepsy.

Specialist doctors on the General Medical Council’s register can now prescribe medical cannabis without needing approval from an expert panel, provided the patient genuinely needs it and no other licensed product can meet their needs.

However, obtaining an NHS prescription for medical cannabis in England remains rare, reflecting the UK’s cautious approach. These prescriptions are mainly for severe epilepsy in children and adults, chemotherapy-induced symptoms, and MS-related muscle problems that other treatments cannot alleviate.

For instance, Epidyolex helps with epilepsy conditions like Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes. Nabilone may be prescribed for chemotherapy-induced symptoms, and Nabiximols (Sativex) is used for MS muscle issues.

Given the risks of THC, such as psychosis and dependency, its use is closely monitored under UK law. Research into medical cannabis for long-term pain is ongoing, but current evidence is insufficient to support its widespread use.

Overall, the UK tightly controls medical cannabis use, allowing it only under the supervision of specialist hospital doctors to ensure safe and monitored use. However, obtaining a prescription through private medical cannabis clinics is considerably easier. These clinics provide an alternative route for patients who do not meet the stringent NHS criteria, offering more personalised and accessible treatment options1.

Medical Cannabis in the UK

Available Cannabis-based Medicines

In Great Britain, the law permits the use of specific cannabis products for certain health conditions. Epidyolex, for example, is prescribed for severe epilepsy conditions like Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes, highlighting the UK’s selective approach to medical cannabis prescriptions.

Nabilone, a synthetic cannabis-like drug, can be prescribed to adults suffering from severe nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. Nabiximols (Sativex), a mouth spray, is used to alleviate muscle stiffness in adults with multiple sclerosis. These strict criteria underscore the cautious approach to cannabis-based medicine in the UK.

Despite the legal framework for medical cannabis, obtaining an NHS prescription is rare. Only specialist doctors in hospitals can prescribe these medications, and only when conventional treatments have failed1.

Medical Cannabis in the UK

Private Medical Cannabis Clinics

In addition to NHS prescriptions, patients can access medical cannabis through private medical cannabis clinics. These clinics provide an alternative route for those who may not qualify for NHS prescriptions. Specialist doctors in private clinics can assess patients and prescribe cannabis-based treatments tailored to individual needs.

Private clinics can offer a broader range of cannabis-based products and more flexible treatment plans. While this option can be more costly than the NHS route, it provides access to those who may benefit from medical cannabis but do not meet the stringent NHS criteria2.

How Do Private Clinics Assess Suitability for Medical Cannabis?

Private medical cannabis clinics are designed to offer a more patient-centric approach. They focus on providing comprehensive assessments to determine the suitability of cannabis-based treatments. These assessments often include a detailed review of the patient’s medical history, current medications, and specific symptoms. This thorough evaluation ensures that the prescribed treatment is tailored to the patient’s unique needs, potentially leading to better outcomes.

Another advantage of private clinics is the shorter waiting times for appointments and prescriptions. The NHS process can be lengthy and cumbersome, often involving multiple referrals and approvals. In contrast, private clinics can streamline the process, allowing patients to receive their prescriptions more quickly. This is particularly beneficial for patients dealing with chronic pain or debilitating symptoms who need prompt relief.

What Are the Benefits of Private Clinics for Medical Cannabis?

Private clinics also tend to have more expertise in cannabis-based treatments. The doctors in these clinics often have specialised training and experience in prescribing medical cannabis, which can result in more effective treatment plans. They stay updated with the latest research and developments in medical cannabis, ensuring that patients receive the most current and effective treatments available.

Moreover, private medical cannabis clinics often provide ongoing support and monitoring. This includes regular follow-up appointments to assess the effectiveness of the treatment and make any necessary adjustments. This level of care ensures that patients are using their medication safely and effectively, minimising the risk of adverse effects and maximising therapeutic benefits.

For those concerned about the legal implications of using cannabis-based products, private clinics offer reassurance. These clinics operate within the legal framework set by the UK government, ensuring that all prescriptions are compliant with current laws and regulations. This provides patients with peace of mind, knowing that their treatment is both legal and professionally managed.

Additionally, private clinics often provide a more holistic approach to treatment. They may offer complementary therapies and lifestyle advice to enhance the benefits of medical cannabis. This can include nutritional guidance, physical therapy, and stress management techniques, all of which can contribute to improved overall health and well-being.

In summary, while accessing medical cannabis through the NHS remains challenging, private medical cannabis clinics offer a viable alternative. They provide a more personalised, efficient, and comprehensive approach to treatment, making it easier for patients to obtain the relief they need. Despite the higher cost, many patients find the benefits of using private clinics to be well worth the investment, especially when conventional treatments have failed to provide adequate relief.

Medical Cannabis in the UK


The UK’s legalisation of medical cannabis in 2018 marked a significant step forward, driving further research into its potential health benefits. However, the stringent regulations mean that NHS prescriptions remain rare, with strict criteria limiting access to specific severe conditions3.

Private medical cannabis clinics provide an alternative route for patients, offering more personalised treatment options, and a much higher chance of receiving a medical cannabis prescription. Despite these advances, widespread acceptance and understanding of medical cannabis in the UK are still evolving4. Continuous research and education are essential to integrating cannabis-based treatments into mainstream healthcare responsibly.

Looking ahead, more research and clear evidence are essential to integrating medical cannabis into UK regulations effectively. Initiatives like the Drug Science Project TWENTY21 in the UK are at the forefront of data collection, aiming to enhance our understanding and management of cannabis for medical treatments. 

If you have any experience with private medical cannabis clinics in the UK, why not leave them a UK medical cannabis review here at Cannabis Access Clinics? Doing so helps the whole community!

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