EducationDoes health insurance cover medical cannabis in the UK?

Does health insurance cover medical cannabis in the UK?

7 min read

Sam North

Does health insurance cover medical cannabis in the UK?


Medical cannabis is finally here in the UK, and it's here to stay. With the UK government legalising medical cannabis in 2018, patients now have access to this complementary treatment option for a vast range of medical conditions, at least when it is prescribed through a private clinic.

Unfortunately, since medical cannabis became a reality, securing a prescription for medical cannabis through the NHS is still extremely rare, and is only applicable for three specific conditions:

  • Patients with severe epilepsy
  • Patients with muscle stiffness and spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Cancer patients suffering from nausea and vomiting after undertaking chemotherapy

This leaves many patients in the UK wondering if their private health insurance will cover medical cannabis as a treatment option for their condition, when prescribed by a private clinic. But, as we all know, when it comes to insurance, things can get a little complicated.

So, does health insurance cover medical cannabis in the UK? If so, does it cover all qualifying conditions?

This article will discuss some of the more frequently asked questions patients may have about medical cannabis expenses and health insurance here in the United Kingdom.

What is medical cannabis?

Cannabis-based medical products (CBMPs) are a range of pharmaceutical products derived from the cannabis sativa L. genus of plants. They can take various forms, such as dried cannabis flower, oils, capsules, tinctures, topicals, and edibles. The two main active components present in CBMPs are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), which have been shown to have various therapeutic effects on the body by interacting with our endocannabinoid system (ECS).

THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating, euphoric effects of cannabis, while CBD is non-intoxicating. Both cannabinoids have been shown, through extensive clinical research, to offer patients a range of therapeutic benefits for conditions such as chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, neurological conditions, mental health concerns, and cancer-related symptoms.

Cannabis and its derivatives have been applied for medical purposes for thousands of years, with the earliest recorded use dating back more than 5,000 years to ancient China. However, due to its psychoactive properties, and the lobbying of certain industries that saw hemp as a threat to their profits, cannabis has been heavily criminalised and stigmatised in the UK and around the world until relatively recently.

Thankfully, the tide has turned, and cannabis is again being recognised as a valuable medicine by governments and medical professionals around the world. This recognition has led to legislative changes in many countries, including the UK.

The current state of medical cannabis in the UK

On the 1st of November 2018, medical cannabis was legalised in the United Kingdom. This was a significant step towards recognising the therapeutic value that cannabis holds for patients in need. However, it is important to note that this legislation only applies to certain conditions when prescribed through the NHS, and stipulates that medical cannabis must be prescribed by a specialist doctor.

The restrictions that have been put in place regarding the prescription of medical cannabis through the NHS mean that the overwhelming majority of patients seeking medical cannabis treatment will need to do so through a private clinic. Private clinic doctors are not restricted to prescribing medical cannabis only for the three qualifying conditions listed above, giving patients more treatment options. 

Recreation use of cannabis remains illegal in the UK, with severe penalties for possession and distribution.

How do I receive a medical cannabis prescription in the UK?

While the process for obtaining a medical cannabis prescription can vary slightly depending on the private clinic, it usually follows a similar structure.

First up, you will need to find the private clinic that is right for you. Releaf is one option for those seeking expert consultations with qualified specialists and tailored monthly packages. You will be asked to fill out an online medical questionnaire, which will then be reviewed by a specialist doctor. You should also contact your GP to request a referral to a specialist if you have not already done so, and a copy of your Summary Care Report (SCR).

If the specialist doctor determines that medical cannabis is an appropriate treatment option, you will have an initial consultation. Depending on the clinic, you may be asked to attend an in-person appointment or a virtual consultation. During this consultation, the specialist will discuss your medical history and current condition to determine the best course of treatment for you. Here at Releaf, we offer online video consultations from the comfort of your own home. During this consultation, the specialist will ask a range of questions to assess your eligibility for medical cannabis and work with you to develop a suitable treatment plan.

If the specialist doctor decides that medical cannabis is a suitable treatment option for your unique medical needs, they will then issue a prescription. Most private clinics will offer to have your prescription filled by their in-house pharmacy, which will then be delivered straight to your doorstep. Releaf offers this service as part of our monthly packages, ensuring that our patients have easy and reliable access to their prescribed medication.

Private health insurance and medical cannabis

So, do UK private health insurance companies cover medical cannabis?

The answer is, unfortunately, no – at least in most cases.

This is due to the fact that private health insurance provides coverage for acute conditions and medication costs only when the policy holder is admitted to a hospital as an inpatient. For outpatient scenarios, individuals would receive medication through the NHS or opt for private payment. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Some private health insurance companies may provide coverage for medical cannabis if it is prescribed by a specialist and deemed medically necessary.

It is always best to check with your specific provider to see if they offer any coverage for medical cannabis before seeking treatment.

The bottom line

While private health insurance companies in the UK rarely cover medical cannabis expenses, there are exceptions made from time to time. It is recommended that you check with your specific provider before seeking treatment.

With the legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK and the availability of private clinics such as Releaf, patients now have access to high-quality medical cannabis treatments that can significantly improve their quality of life. Medical cannabis is no longer a taboo subject, but rather a legitimate treatment option for a broad range of health conditions.

Releaf understands that embarking on your medical cannabis journey can be overwhelming, and even slightly intimidating – that’s why we offer tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and our unique medical cannabis card to give you the peace of mind that your treatment is protected, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

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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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.

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