BlogThe ins and outs of prescribed cannabis oil

The ins and outs of prescribed cannabis oil

13 min read

Sam North

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.


CBD products (CBD oil, CBD gummies, CBD balms) are all the rage here in the UK, and rightfully so. Cannabidiol (CBD) is an amazing compound. But, it is far from the only Cannabis sativa L. produced chemical that has powerful potential.

If you have been searching for an all-natural, plant-based treatment option that can provide relief without the heavy side effects that often go hand in hand with conventional medications because they have been failing to meet your needs, prescribed cannabis oil may be the answer.

What is prescribed cannabis oil, and is it legal in the UK?

Prescribed cannabis oil is exactly what it sounds like - cannabis-based medicine made from a cannabis extract (usually mixed with a carrier oil) that can only be accessed through a prescription from a specialist.

In the UK, cannabis-based medicines were rescheduled in November 2018, allowing for them to be prescribed legally by specialist doctors on the General Medical Council's Specialist Register. This decision only came to fruition after decades of research, advocacy, lobbying, and the heroic efforts of patients who found relief in cannabis-based medicines when other treatments have failed.

How does medical cannabis oil differ from CBD oil?

Cannabis oil prescribed by a registered specialist can legally contain the entire spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes found in the plant, including THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis).

In the UK, CBD oil is legal for purchase and consumption without a prescription, but only as long as it contains less than 1 mg of THC per container, or 0.2% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD oil is a wonderful wellness tool and can help with a wide range of health concerns.

But, it is important to note that CBD alone does not always provide the same level of relief as a full-spectrum medical cannabis oil.

Other than the inclusion of THC, what sets medical cannabis oil apart from CBD oil?

  • CBD oil is a general wellness supplement, while medical cannabis oil is specifically prescribed for the treatment of a wide range of health conditions.
  • Medical cannabis oil is prescribed by a specialist who tailors the dosage and ratio of cannabinoids to meet the individual patient's needs best.
  • Patients with a prescription for medical cannabis receive ongoing clinical support and monitoring from their prescribing specialist.
  • While CBD oil is legal for purchase without a prescription, medical cannabis oil is only available through a specialist prescription, ensuring proper medical oversight and accountability.
  • The regulatory oversight of medical cannabis oil is much more stringent than that of CBD oil, ensuring a higher level of quality and consistency in each batch.
  • The full-spectrum nature of medical cannabis oil means that it can potentially provide a more comprehensive and balanced therapeutic effect than just CBD alone.

Let's dive into that last point a little further.

The entourage effect is a term used to describe the synergistic effect of multiple compounds found in cannabis working together to provide a therapeutic outcome that is more than the sum of its parts.

CBD is just one component of this "entourage" - it works best when accompanied by other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. THC and CBD are the two major cannabinoids produced by this amazing plant, and they have a balancing effect on each other, potentially enhancing the overall therapeutic potential.

How does medical cannabis oil work?

To explain this, we are going to have to venture into the endocannabinoid system - the largest neurochemical receptor system in the human body.

The ECS and its role in maintaining homeostasis

The ECS is a complex network of receptors and signalling molecules responsible for maintaining homeostasis (or balance) within the body.

It is made up of three components:

  1. Endocannabinoids - cannabinoids produced by the body that interact with cannabinoid receptors, and act as the chemical messengers.
  2. Cannabinoid receptors - found through both the central and peripheral nervous systems, these receptors react to endocannabinoids and plant-based cannabinoids (like CBD and THC). The two cannabinoid receptors are CB1 and CB2.
  3. Metabolic enzymes - responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids after they have served their purpose.

The ECS plays a crucial role in:

  • Anxiety management
  • Appetite and feeding behaviours
  • Emotional responses
  • Depression management
  • Nervous system functions
  • Neurogenesis (creation of new neurons)
  • Neuroprotection (protection of nerve cells)
  • Cognitive functions
  • Learning processes
  • Memory retention
  • Pain perception
  • Inflammation
  • Fertility and sexual function

When the ECS falls out of balance, it can affect these functions, leading to various health conditions. This is where medical cannabis oil comes in.

How does medical cannabis oil interact with the human system?

Medical cannabis oil works by interacting with the ECS, along with a range of other biological systems and pathways within the body.

THC binds to CB1 receptors, found primarily in the brain and central nervous system, while CBD has a bit more of a roundabout approach. CBD does not bind in the same way as THC to CB1 receptors, which is why THC is psychoactive, and CBD is not.

Instead, CBD stimulates endocannabinoid production and reduces the production of enzymes that break down endocannabinoids. This results in more endocannabinoids circulating in the ECS and helps regulate their activity. It also activates other neurochemical receptors - the serotonin receptors and TRPV1 receptors.

Both THC and CBD have been shown to positively affect our dopaminergic system, which regulates mood and other cognitive functions.

What about terpenes?

Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give cannabis its distinct smell and flavour. They also add to the entourage effect when part of a prescribed cannabis oil, potentially enhancing the therapeutic effects.

  • Beta-caryophyllene - one of the few terpenes that can bind directly to CB1 receptors, producing anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Myrcene - anti-inflammatory and sedative properties
  • Limonene - mood enhancer and stress reliever
  • Pinene - bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory agent
  • Linalool - anti-anxiety and sedative properties

By taking the full spectrum of compounds found in prescribed medical cannabis oil, patients may experience a more comprehensive therapeutic effect that takes advantage of the entourage effect.

What health issues can medical cannabis oil potentially help with?

The extensive list of medical uses for cannabis oil can be a surprise for the uninitiated.

Unlike most conventional pharmaceuticals (which usually target one or two specific conditions, diseases, or symptoms), prescribed cannabis oil has been shown to help sufferers with a whole host of health issues.


UK medical cannabis oil can be prescribed for many psychiatric issues, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Insomnia

Chronic Pain

Prescribable cannabis oil has shown promise in treating chronic pain caused by:

  • Arthritis
  • Back or Joint Pain
  • Migraines
  • Ehlers Danlos Syndrome
  • Endometriosis
  • Fibromyalgia


Cannabis-based medicines, including medical cannabis oil, can be used to treat certain gastrointestinal issues such as:

  • Crohn's Disease
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Celiac Disease


Neurological conditions that have been shown to be helped by medical cannabis oil in the UK include:

  • ADHD
  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Motor Neurone Disease (MND)
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson's Disease

Sleeping Disorders

Sleep issues are one of the most common reasons UK patients take medical cannabis oil. It can help with:

  • Insomnia
  • Narcolepsy
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Nightmare Disorder
  • Sleep Apnoea
  • Sleepwalking

Cancer-related symptoms

Although prescribable THC/CBD oil will not cure cancer, it has the potential to help with:

  • Chemotherapy-induced vomiting
  • Pain management
  • Cancer-related anxiety
  • Cancer-related depression

This is not an exhaustive record. If your specific health concern/issue isn't listed, check out our free eligibility checker. It takes less than 30 seconds to complete, and you'll come out with a clear idea of whether you qualify for medical cannabis oil.

How do you access prescribed cannabis oil in the UK?

Here in the UK, there are two routes for prospective patients to consider - the NHS and private cannabis clinics.

NHS cannabis oil prescriptions explained

The NHS is extremely restrictive when it comes to cannabis-based medicine prescriptions.

Even though medical cannabis is totally legal in this country and has been proven to offer patients suffering from a range of conditions lasting relief - the NHS guidelines for prescribing cannabis-based medicine are stringent and have left many patients disappointed.

The only way to access prescribed THC/CBD oil via the NHS is to have exhausted all other treatment options, and only if you are battling:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting caused by chemotherapy
  • Muscle spasms and stiffness caused by Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • One of two rare forms of epilepsy (Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome)

All other patients will need to consider the second option - private cannabis clinics.

Private UK cannabis clinic medical oil prescriptions

However, patients who are not offered medicinal cannabis therapy options on the NHS may still be eligible for a personalised medical cannabis treatment plan with Releaf.

Here at Releaf, we have done all the legwork to make the process as pain-free as possible for our patients. We have an easy-to-use eligibility checker that takes less than 30 seconds to complete, and once you share your medical records, we can book you in for an online consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

We are proud to work with some of the most experienced and trusted medical cannabis prescribers in the UK, and all cannabis medicines we offer have gone through the most stringent testing and checks to ensure their effectiveness and safety.

FAQs - UK prescribed medical cannabis oil

Is medical cannabis oil the same as CBD oil?

No, they are not the same. Medical cannabis oil can legally contain more than 1 mg of THC per container. Over-the-counter CBD options cannot.

Is medical cannabis oil safe?

Yes, all medical cannabis treatment options have been shown to have a positive safety profile. 

When a specialist prescribes and oversees treatment, it is even safer.

Does prescribed cannabis oil come with the risk of side effects?

Yes, just like all medications, there is the potential for side effects with prescribed cannabis oil. These are usually minor and well-tolerated.

Common side effects can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Changes in appetite/weight

It's imperative that you reach out to your specialist should you experience any side effects. They can adjust your dosage or recommend a different treatment option.

Are cannabis oils and tinctures the same thing?

No, although the terms are often wrongly used interchangeably, especially in the CBD industry.

By definition, tinctures are alcohol-based liquids that contain herbal extracts. Generally, cannabis oils do not contain alcohol and are made from cannabis extracts combined with a carrier oil (usually MCT oil).

The future of medical cannabis oil in the UK

A quick Google search is all that's needed to see just how colossal medical cannabis has already become in the UK. As patients and prescribers become more aware of the power of medical cannabis oil, the interest and demand for this alternative treatment option are only growing. Projections show that the market could be worth over £350 million by the end of 2024.

It's clear to see that medical cannabis is here to stay and to help even more patients in the future. As research and understanding of the plant continue to expand, we can expect to see even more health issues being positively impacted by prescribed cannabis oil.

If prescribable UK medical oil piques your interest, Releaf is here to help. We are the UK's first 'all-in-one' medical cannabis clinic, with our own pharmacy, our own prescribers, and a team dedicated to making the process as seamless as possible. Take a step towards better health today.

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

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.

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

Medical cannabis and public transport: what you need to know

This week we continue our ‘what you need to know’ series, outlining medical cannabis patient’s rights when it comes to travelling on public transport. From possession of CBPMs, to administering them on buses, trains, and trams, this blog gives an overview of UK legislation and public transport policies, to help you stay safe.

Lucy MacKinnon

How do dry herb vaporisers work?

For thousands of years, the main method of cannabis consumption has been smoking. But in recent years, as medical cannabis has become more prominent and consumers are generally looking for healthier alternatives, the dry herb vaporiser has been on the rise. So, how do they work? And importantly, are dry herb vaporisers worth it?

Emily Ledger

Beyond aroma: The therapeutic potential of caryophyllene in cannabis

Today, we begin a new series aimed at helping patients fully understand the specific terpenes found in the highest concentrations in cannabis and how they may impact your medicine. The starting point is caryophyllene, an extremely interesting compound and the only terpene known to activate cannabinoid receptors in the body.

Sam North