August 21, 2023

Highflying prescriptions: What it's like to take cannabis on a plane

Medical cannabis on holiday: the basics


Founder of the UK Cannabis Social Clubs, Greg is considered an expert on all things cannabis. Greg campaigned for the medical cannabis laws we now operate under appearing on the BBC, in The Times, Telegraph and has been published in the British Medical Journal.

fact checked

Compliance Director

Recently, I've been able to experience what it's like to fly internationally and domestically with a legal cannabis prescription. For the first time in my life, I'm not confined to travel to only those destinations where I can access cannabis, so I can now stay symptom-free and enjoy the duration of my trips. 

Airport security

My first exploration with a legal prescription was to meet my partner's family in Switzerland. Rather than arranging with a contact I knew in Zurich, I was free of any worry or anxiety about travelling without any medication. I have Crohn's Disease, and anxiety increases my gut motility, meaning I have to go to the toilet rather frequently. It's a figurative and literal pain in the backside. Still, fortunately for me, cannabis has been a wonderful aid in calming down the severity. Now I can have cannabis with me at all times and within immediate reach if I need it. 

I packed my bag and left the prescription pot of medical cannabis at the top with a copy and a letter from the clinic signed by the doctor proving further what the medication was, why I had it and who prescribed it to me. If you are asked to present evidence or explain why you have controlled drugs in your luggage, ensuring it is easily accessible will work in your favour. Failure to present the correct information may cause unnecessary delays on your flight or cause you to miss them if you are taken for questioning. 

When my bag went along the conveyor belt and through the scanner this time, nothing happened…it wasn't pulled aside, and I wasn't asked to explain anything. I put my laptop and liquids back in my bag and went through the airport. My partner, who has never used cannabis or any other drug before, was stopped on either side of the flight, searched, patted down and had her passport swabbed for explosives making it quite clear that they were not looking for small pots of cannabis being smuggled through the airports - even without a prescription. 

No more anxiety

More recently, I took a flight to Belfast in Northern Ireland, home to over 3,000 medical cannabis prescription patients. Having one last vape outside, travelling between the train and the check-in lounge, drew no attention despite it being quite a busy morning at Gatwick Airport. 

Going through security with my prescription was once again absolutely without hassle and a pain-free experience. I am confident carrying my prescription through this level of (sometimes invasive) security, because the paperwork says I have the right to be carrying what I have on me. Having seen twice now that this is how smooth it goes, I've realised it's the first time I've not had any anxiety about travelling at all. The little things you notice you've been putting up with because the law discriminated against you previously is quite a liberating feeling. 

The flight from Gatwick to Belfast is around 50 minutes. Having just put my vaporiser in my pocket straight after using it, there was a slight smell that hummed off of me, and someone sitting across the aisle two rows back could be heard saying, "I can smell weed; can you smell weed?" looking around him for confirmation. I refrained from saying anything and read my book until the familiar "ding" rang overhead. We were told it was time to put our belts back on because we were starting our descent. I thought this was a perfect time to reload my vaporiser, ready for when I got off the plane. 

By this point, I had forgotten about the gentleman behind me who thought he could smell something you wouldn't normally smell on a flight. So midway through grinding up some chunky nugs of Orange Cake, I heard, "I can smell it again; I can definitely smell it. You must be able to smell it now." I turned around and looked at the man trying to solicit nods from the seat behind me, so I picked up the bag and showed him. "It's OK; I have a prescription for it". His eyes widened, and he sighed in relief, followed by a short conversation about medical cannabis being legally available on prescription since 2018. It wasn't just him; three people within earshot asked for details on how to find out more. 

Needing to medicate whilst you wait

On my return journey, I had one last vape outside before heading through security again. As I stood opposite the entrance, a police officer stood at the door, watched me for a moment, and then went back inside. At this point, I thought I was going to be stopped and have to show my prescription and ID to prove it was legal for me to have. Instead, they asked where I was heading back to and if I was going home. I happily answered their questions, and they sent me through another set of doors. 

But what happens if you must take your medication when you've been delayed at the airport airside for several hours? There's no way to just walk outside, and it might draw a lot of attention if you just cracked out your vape where you sit, as I found out in George Best Airport, Belfast. The best policy to ensure you don't have a group of concerned security guards walking up to you is to walk up to them first and explain the situation. They will likely be happy to escort you to a less populated place behind some staff access doors. You are within your right to tell them you cannot take your inhaled medicine in a tobacco smoking area as this poses harmful risks to your health.

Releaf is committed to helping you access the benefits of a medical cannabis service. Our monthly packages are tailored to your cannabis prescription, and we offer specialist consultations for medical cannabis and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

Our aim is to provide you with relevant information to help you to make better-informed decisions when travelling with your prescribed medical cannabis, but we cannot provide any guarantees, conditions or warranties as to the accuracy of the information in this article. It is a general guide only and not a substitute for obtaining your own legal advice.

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.

Related Articles

28. 11. 2023

The CIC takes the wheel: Medical cannabis driving guidance

The Cannabis Industry Council (CIC) has released guidance for medical cannabis patients to ensure that they act safely, and are treated appropriately, when behind the wheel. Distributed for free in physical leaflet format to attendees at The Patient Conference, which took place earlier this month during Medical Cannabis Awareness Week, this document states the rules and regulations that relate to medical cannabis patients and driving.

24. 11. 2023

What does cannabis smell like, and what causes its aroma?

The question ‘what does cannabis smell like?’ is extremely complex to answer. This is because cannabis is a broad, colloquial term, that covers an entire family of different cannabis plants that all slightly vary from one another.

24. 11. 2023

Behind the leaf: 5 (more) medical cannabis myths debunked

Releaf returns with another dose of myth-busting revelations. One of the big myths of the past was “cannabis will never be legal because they can’t patent a plant”. Well, here we are in 2023 with multiple patents for cannabis-based medicinal products and a burgeoning legal market. Let’s look at some more of the mistakes people make about medical cannabis, and hopefully, if you hear any of these in the future, you’ll feel prepared to debunk it with the evidence.