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Surprising Problems with the UK’s Medical Cannabis System


Surprising Problems with the UK’s Medical Cannabis System

Medical cannabis is legal in the UK, but it’s nearly impossible to obtain. So what do you do if you live in the United Kingdom and need medical marijuana?

Medical cannabis is legal in the UK, but that doesn’t mean it’s easily accessible. Patients who need cannabis to manage chronic conditions and disorders are suffering without proper treatment. The history of cannabis in the UK is complicated, surprising, and full of uphill battles.

Why is Medical Cannabis Difficult to Get in the UK?

Due to current guidelines, price concerns, and a lack of clinical trials, National Health Service (NHS) doctors are reluctant to issue cannabis prescriptions. Very few patients will qualify for a marijuana prescription at all, since the guidelines at the NHS are rather strict. Only children with rare forms of epilepsy or adults suffering from chemotherapy-induced nausea qualify for medical cannabis.

Additionally, Sativex is the only cannabis-based drug in the UK licensed through the NHS. Other drugs containing cannabinoids can be prescribed off-label, but that’s not applicable to the vast majority of Brits who get their healthcare from the country’s National Health Service. 

Difficulties Filling Prescriptions

If you’re actually able to get a cannabis prescription in the UK, you may find it nearly impossible to fill. Those who succeed in getting a marijuana prescription then often find it difficult to get their hands on the medicine. This is largely due to lack of stock and importing issues. Patients who manage to find medical cannabis at all commonly can’t afford to buy the prescription, since it can be overwhelmingly expensive.

Fibromyalgia sufferer and cannabis activist Carly Barton had to fight to get a private prescription from a Manchester-based pain specialist. However, since a month’s supply cost her £1,400, she was forced to cultivate her own cannabis. Barton’s experience led her to start a campaign for amnesty for patients in the same position.

The Fight for Medical Cannabis

The right to medical marijuana was granted in the UK in November 2018. The process for medical reform was initially quite slow, since British politicians have a history of blocking and opposing cannabis legislation. However, the final push towards legalization happened rapidly with the widely publicized cased of Billie Caldwell and Alfie Dingley. These young children with epilepsy made headlines after Billy’s mother, Charlotte, had cannabis oil seized from her while entering the UK. 

Home Office Minister Sajid Javid issued temporary licenses permitting medical cannabis use for Billy and Alfie. The issue received a lot of attention, and ultimately was good for dispelling some negative stigmas surrounding marijuana use. Three months later, Javid downgraded cannabis from a Schedule 1 controlled drug to Schedule 2 drug. Under Britain’s regulatory system for prescription medications, this change allows specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis.

Since this legalization, Britain has become the world’s largest exporter of medical cannabis. They continue to make progress in this field by recently creating a medical cannabis program. However, medical marijuana is still not accessible to most patients in Britain.

The Future of Medical Cannabis in the UK

While medical cannabis is technically legal in the UK, it’s seemingly impossible to obtain. Most patients either can’t get a prescription or can’t afford to pay for the treatment. Many patients are forced to break the law to obtain their cannabis from black market dealers or illegal cannabis clubs. People with medical needs are suffering and are desperate to access medicinal marijuana products. As it stands, the fight for medical cannabis in the UK is far from won.

Sarah Haze

"Sarah is an American expat living in Spain with her husband and little doggie. She comes from a performing arts and teaching background with a degree from the University of London. For the past 3 years Sarah has worked in and written about the legal cannabis industry both in Spain and the US. She cares about sharing her passion for cannabis, yoga, healthy lifestyles, counterculture and travel trough writing and social media."


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