BlogCan I donate blood as a medical cannabis patient in the UK?

Can I donate blood as a medical cannabis patient in the UK?

10 min read

Sam North

Can I donate blood as a medical cannabis patient in the UK

Donating blood is one of the most selfless acts we can undertake, but only about 7% of adults give blood (in England). While it is an extremely safe procedure and one that can potentially save someone's life, there are certain criteria that prospective donors must meet.

Contents

In the UK, where medical cannabis is a legally recognised medical treatment option (and has been since 2018), the question "Can I donate blood as a medical cannabis patient in the UK?" is one we hear often.

The answer?

Officially (and unfortunately), it's a no.

But, as is often the case with medical cannabis, there's a bit more to it than that.

Blood donation in the UK

Donating blood is one of the most selfless acts we can undertake, but only about 7% of adults give blood (in England). While it is an extremely safe procedure and one that can potentially save someone's life, there are certain criteria that prospective donors must meet.

These guidelines are in place to protect the health and safety of both donors and recipients. In the UK, the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) oversees blood donation and is responsible for ensuring that all donated blood comes from eligible, safe donors. They have strict eligibility criteria that determine who can donate blood.

NHS blood donation guidelines explained

To donate blood, all prospective donors must:

  • be in good health
  • be between 17 and 65 years old
  • weigh between 50kg (7 stone 12 lbs) and 158kg (25 stone)
  • have suitable veins
  • fulfil all donor eligibility criteria

There are also guidelines on who cannot give blood. These include:

  • people who have had certain types of cancer
  • people with existing heart conditions
  • people who received blood products post 1 January 1980
  • HIV patients
  • people who have undergone an organ transplant
  • carriers of hepatitis B and hepatitis C
  • people who have used non-prescription injectable drugs, including body-building and tanning agents.

Can medical cannabis patients donate blood in the UK?

According to NHSBT's eligibility criteria for blood donation, medical cannabis patients are currently not allowed to donate. This is due to the fact that medical cannabis is still a relatively new treatment option, and there is limited research on its impact on blood composition and safety.

The NHSBT guidelines state that individuals who use non-prescribed medication, including herbal supplements and remedies, are not eligible to donate blood. This is because there may be substances in these medications that could have harmful effects on the recipient.

But isn't medical cannabis a prescribed medication?

Yes, it is.

However, the NHSBT guidelines also state that any individuals taking medication that could pose a risk to the recipient must wait four weeks before donating blood.

And this is where it all gets a little murky.

A quick Google search along the lines of "Can medical cannabis patients donate blood in the UK?" will show forum posts where many current UK medical cannabis patients state they have been allowed to donate blood, even after telling the medical staff that they are currently taking medical cannabis products.

This is most likely because recreational cannabis users are allowed to give blood, but only if they are not currently under the influence of cannabis.

It's unclear whether this discrepancy is an oversight, stigmatisation, or if regulations are simply still outdated in relation to the legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK. Still, it's left a number of medical cannabis patients with some very valid questions.

The stigma surrounding medical cannabis in the UK

The inconsistency between being able to donate blood as a recreational cannabis user and not as a medical cannabis patient sheds light on the ongoing stigmatisation and lack of understanding surrounding medical cannabis.

Despite being recognised as a legitimate and fully legal medical treatment option in the UK, there is still a certain level of stigma still attached to taking cannabis for medicinal purposes. This is due to more than a century's worth of misinformation and propaganda about the plant, leading many to see it as a drug rather than a medicine.

And really, it just doesn't make sense.

A large section of medical cannabis patients do not take enough THC with each dose to even feel "high". That's not even mentioning the fact that medical cannabis products are rigorously tested and quality-controlled, making them comparable in safety to many over-the-counter medications.

But, for the moment, at least, this is the reality for medical cannabis patients in the UK who wish to give blood. The answer remains a 'No'.

Are there other organisations that run blood banks in the UK?

Yes, other organisations run blood banks in the UK.

In addition to NHS Blood and Transplant, there are also private companies such as Bio Products Laboratory (BPL) and Octapharma that collect and process donated blood for medical use.

However, the same eligibility criteria apply to all organisations that collect blood in the UK. This means that medical cannabis patients are currently not able to donate blood, regardless of the organisation collecting it.

What can medical cannabis patients do instead?

While it may be disappointing that medical cannabis patients cannot legally donate blood in the UK at this time, there are still other ways to give back and help others in need. Volunteering for charities that support medical cannabis research, advocating for more understanding and acceptance of medical cannabis in society, or simply spreading awareness and educating others about the benefits of this treatment option are all great ways to make a positive impact in the community.

By using our voices and actions to break down the stigma and misconceptions surrounding medical cannabis, we can all play our part in helping improve the lives of countless patients who rely on this plant.

UK blood donation FAQs

What are the different types of blood donations in the UK?

There are three main types of blood donation in the UK:

  • Whole blood donation is the most common type, where a pint (approximately 470 ml) of whole blood is collected, which can then be separated into different components for transfusion.
  • Platelet donation uses a special machine that collects platelets from the donor's blood while returning the rest of the blood components to the donor. Platelets are important for clotting and are typically administered to patients with bleeding disorders or those undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Plasma donation is where the liquid part of the blood (plasma) is gathered while the other components are returned to the donor. Plasma is utilised in the treatment of various medical conditions like burns, shock, and immune disorders.

How often can I donate blood in the UK?

Whole blood donations can be made every 12 weeks, while platelet or plasma donations can be made every 2 to 3 weeks.

Is it dangerous to give blood?

No, donating your blood is not dangerous. The human body has around 10 to 12 pints of blood in total, and the amount collected during a donation is only one pint or less than ten percent of your total blood volume. This small amount is easily replenished within a few hours by your body.

Can medical cannabis patients donate blood in other countries?

Yes, some overseas countries that offer legal medical cannabis as a treatment option allow medical cannabis users to donate blood. For example, in certain states in the US, registered medical cannabis patients can donate blood as long as they meet all other eligibility criteria. The same goes for Canadian medical cannabis patients.

It's essential to check with local blood donation organisations and guidelines before attempting to donate while taking medical cannabis. Each country will have different regulations and processes in place for blood donations.

Where can I donate blood in the UK?

The NHS has twenty-five main donor centres venues across England, Scotland, and Wales. You can find your nearest venue by visiting the NHS Blood and Transplant website. There are also thousands of temporary venues where you can give blood, which are usually set up in easily accessible places like schools, community centres, and town halls.

Is there a particular blood type needed more than others?

All blood types are essential, but O negative (O-) is especially important as it is the 'universal donor', meaning it can be given to patients with any blood type. This makes O- blood particularly useful in emergency situations where there may not be time to determine a patient's blood type before transfusing.

How do I know if I'm eligible to donate blood?

To determine eligibility, head over to the NHS Blood and Transplant website for more information. You can use the online tool to check your eligibility before booking an appointment, or call their helpline on 0300 123 23 23.

Final thoughts

While medical cannabis patients in the UK are currently unable to give blood legally, we have opened a line of communication with the NHS over this issue, and hope to be able to update this article with more positive news in the future.

In the meantime, let's focus on ways we can continue to support and give back to our community in other ways. Together, we can make a difference and help create a more understanding and accepting society for all medical cannabis patients.

If you would like to learn more, head over to our blog and education sections, or reach out at any time to see if medical cannabis may be a suitable treatment option for you. At Releaf, we specialise in tailoring medical cannabis treatments to individual patient needs and providing ongoing support to ensure the best possible health outcomes for all our patients.

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.

Elevate your wellness with medical cannabis

Get comprehensive care, convenience, and confidence with an all-in-one treatment plan.

Check your eligibility
Authors

Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

compliance checked

Compliance Director

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

Published at:


Further reading

The ins and outs of prescribed cannabis oil

We are living through what can only really be described as a health-care revolution. Cannabis, long seen by the UK 'powers that be' as nothing more than a recreational drug, now has the spotlight squarely aimed at its medicinal and therapeutic properties.

Sam North

10 top tips for the first month of medical cannabis

We know that starting a new healthcare treatment plan, especially one that has only recently been made available, can feel daunting. When patients first consider trying medical cannabis, many aren’t quite sure of what to expect or know who to turn to for answers to their questions.

Lucy MacKinnon

An insight into Ayurveda

The world of medicine has evolved beyond all recognition over the last two centuries, with the widespread rollout of vaccines, the development of countless pharmaceuticals, and a more detailed understanding of the body and the forces that affect it. Yet, as more people seek an alternative approach to their health, traditional therapeutic techniques are once again becoming more popular, including ancient practices like Ayurvedic medicine.

Emily Ledger