April 20, 2023

1.8 million Brits buy backstreet cannabis for medicinal purposes

1.8 million Brits buy backstreet cannabis for medicinal purposes


With 5 years of cannabis journalism behind her after graduating from De Montfort University and writing for cannabis publications such as The Cannavist, Lucy is a dedicated journalist passionate about cannabis education and culture.

It has been almost five years since the medical prescription of cannabis was legalised in the UK, but recent data suggests that as many as 1.8 million people are still sourcing cannabis illegally in order to alleviate the symptoms of their health conditions.

This estimation comes from data published by The Sapphire Medical Clinic in March 2023, who conducted a YouGov survey of the general population last October. 

Their findings suggest that 52% of adults have been diagnosed with a health condition, but around 24% of the general public are unaware that cannabis-based products for medicinal use (CBPMs) can be legally prescribed. 

Data like this demonstrates how widespread the lack of understanding and awareness of medical cannabis in the UK actually is. 

Of the 1.8 million people believed to be buying cannabis illegally, those who were using it to self-medicate for their chronic pain were found to be spending around £156 a month on average. 

It was found that 29% assumed medical cannabis in the UK would be too expensive, whilst 41% predicted that it would be too difficult to access. 

Legal cannabis prescriptions in the UK

In January 2023 John Spellar, the Labour MP for Warley, submitted a request into the House of Commons where he asked for the government to clarify the availability of cannabis-based medicines. 

It read:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, how many prescriptions for cannabis-based medicines have been issued since those prescriptions became legal?” 

The reply states that due to GDPR regulations The NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) is unable to disclose how many unlicensed cannabis-based medicines have been prescribed by the NHS.

However, they were able to reveal that 89,239 prescriptions for the same kind of medications were issued by specialists working in the private sector between November 2018 and October 2022. 

During that same time frame 11,976 prescriptions were issued by the NHS for licensed cannabis-based medicines. 

Licensed products can be prescribed by any authorised practitioner under the 2001 regulations, however unlicensed CBMPs can only be prescribed after a referral from a specialist doctor registered on the General Medical Council’s Specialist Register.

If you need an alternative approach to manage your health condition, Releaf is here to help. Our monthly packages are based on your cannabis prescription, and we offer specialist consultations for medical cannabis and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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