How many medical cannabis patients are there in the UK?

How many medical cannabis patients are there in the UK?

Although medical cannabis has been legal in the UK since November 1st, 2018, the public awareness of this change in legislation is still somewhat limited.

In our yearly research report, from June 2023, we uncovered that up to 16.5 million UK adults still believe that medical cannabis is illegal. Out of the participants we surveyed, a mere 41.5% were aware that specialist doctors can legally prescribe medical cannabis. Surprisingly, an astonishing 34.77% still held the belief that medical cannabis remains illegal, even though it was legalized half a decade ago.

Now for some more staggering statistics…

  • Not only do many patients simply not know that cannabis-based medical products can now legally be prescribed (only by doctors who are on the General Medical Council's Specialist Register), but the number of patients actually accessing this treatment is also unexpectedly low.
  • 99% of adult patients with treatable conditions have so far been denied access to medical cannabis prescriptions through the NHS. Thankfully, clinics such as Releaf exist and are taking on new patients every day and have the ability to provide cannabis-based medical products (CBMPs) for almost any condition that a prescribing doctor deems appropriate.
  • Based on the data collected from our sample of 4,210 adults in the UK, it is estimated that approximately 50.2% of the population, equivalent to 29.6 million UK adults, have received a medical diagnosis for at least one condition that could potentially qualify them for medical cannabis-based treatments.

On top of this, there are still many misconceptions and a certain level of confusion surrounding medical cannabis, with the stigma that has been created in the century surrounding the cannabis sativa L. plant enduring, even though it has been scientifically proven to have a wide range of potential therapeutic and medical benefits.

In today's write-up, we intend to simplify the numbers and provide a clear answer to the questions:

  • How many medical cannabis patients are there currently in the UK?
  • What health concerns has medical cannabis been prescribed for?
  • Are there any restrictions or barriers in place preventing patients from accessing this potentially life-changing treatment option in the present day?
  • What are the predicted future growth numbers in terms of medical cannabis patients in the UK?

The current number of medical cannabis patients

Despite the large numbers projected for growth in the private sector when medical cannabis was first legislated, the uptake has been rather slow. It is honestly quite difficult to gauge exactly how many patients there are in the UK at any one time, as there is no register or database in place that keeps track of this information. Most predictions put the number at somewhere between 20-30,000 active patients. Predictions estimate roughly 47,000 patients could be receiving a prescription for medical cannabis by the end of 2023. 

There are a number of factors that prevent a true and live figure being given by any official body. The government has said they would not release the number due to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) reasons, although many experts suggest a number that does not reveal any personal information should not breach data protection acts in the UK or Europe.

And to make matters more confusing, some patients may switch clinics multiple times in their search for the service that meets their needs. Consequently, if clinics were to solely report their new patient numbers, there is a possibility of double-counting certain patients.

We do know is that more than 89,000 prescriptions had been signed by doctors by the end of 2022. Industry experts indicate there are approximately 1,000 new patients registering between all UK clinics every month. 

How many cannabis clinics are there in the UK?

The number of medical cannabis clinics in the UK is changing all the time. Currently, there are approximately 20-25 but just as new ones open, some close. Running a cannabis clinic in the UK is a complicated process tied up with the highest levels of government bureaucracy in order to ensure that it is one of the safest medical cannabis systems in the world.

Some consider that this level of regulation is hindering the growth of the sector, which is making it hard for clinics to be as successful as industry predictions suggest it could be five years into legalisation. This puts the ratio of patients to clinics at somewhere between 1000:1 – 1500:1.

What is the law on medical cannabis in the UK?

The law on medical cannabis allows specialist doctors on the General Medical Council to prescribe cannabis-based medicinal products to patients with a genuine clinical need. The Home Office announced a change in the law in 2018 after patients, doctors, and some politicians campaigned for access to the drug for medical purposes. The NHS remains unable to prescribe CBMP until it meets the strict criteria upheld by NICE and the MHRA, who require clinical studies proving a product's efficacy for a specific condition or set of symptoms. 

Cultivation is licenced by the Home Office and the Home Secretary, and strict regulatory measures must be met before marketing approval can be granted. 

How easy is it to get a cannabis prescription in the UK?

Patients must satisfy eligibility criteria before a specialist will prescribe, and they will only prescribe if they believe there is a genuine need that cannot be met by another medication that is currently available. Patients may have to try two different conventional medications, treatments, or therapies without a successful outcome before they are able to receive a medical cannabis prescription.

Because the NHS will not prescribe in the vast majority of cases, the burden of cost is put upon the patient themselves, making it accessible to some but also potentially unaffordable to many on a basic income. Medical cannabis clinics typically charge an upfront cost for an initial appointment and charge for each product that is prescribed. There are often repeat prescription costs associated with private clinics, although some waiver this fee periodically.

Here at Releaf, we offer a subscription package that provides an extra level of care and increased value. 

What conditions can medical cannabis be prescribed for in the UK?

Medical cannabis can be prescribed for a range of conditions in the UK.

Currently, the NHS is only able to prescribe CBMPs for three specific health issues – epilepsy, muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

However, specialist doctors that are working out of a private clinic have the authority to now prescribe CBMPs for almost any condition, as long as they believe it will be beneficial to the patient. To date, here in the UK, medical cannabis has been prescribed for a huge list of conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines
  • Back pain and Sciatica
  • Cancer-related pain
  • Endometriosis
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • ADHD
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite Disorders
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Colitis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Terminal cancers
  • Kidney failure
  • Epilepsy

What is the predicted number of potential patients in the UK? 

Some predictions have estimated around one million people in the UK could be waiting to get it legally for a medical condition. Different cannabis clinics have conducted their own research, however, and have larger predictions. This could very much well be the case and if you look at the numbers for just a few of the medical conditions like multiple sclerosis (130k), Crohn’s disease (540k), epilepsy (633k), and arthritis (10m), all of which could potentially benefit from medical cannabis and have already been prescribed for.

How does UK medical cannabis compare to other countries?

UK Medical cannabis is tightly controlled, and access is limited due to the need for prescription to come from specialist consultant doctors. Despite the fact there are 80,000 out of 375,000 doctors legally capable of prescribing legal cannabis products in the UK, fewer than 200 have moved into this new sector of medicine.

The advertising of medical cannabis is subject to strict regulations, and these rules regarding what can and cannot be said pose challenges for clinics in reaching patients who are actively seeking a legal solution to their persistent health issues.

In Germany, any doctor, including family GP’s can legally prescribe cannabis-based medicinal products to patients they feel meet the requirements. This creates much wider access and reduces the initial cost because it is the same as a regular doctor's appointment. The eligibility process is less stringent and there is no requirement to have tried other medications, treatments or therapy before cannabis becomes an available option. This is coupled with the fact that German medical and healthcare insurance reimburses part or all of the cost of medical cannabis prescriptions, so there is no huge monthly expenditure for patients who will just continue to pay for their monthly healthcare plans. Germany legalised in 2017, one year before the UK, and has around 372,000 patients with a cannabis prescription. 

Australia has also seen a phenomenal boom in medical cannabis uptake. The University of Sydney reports there were over 600,000 patients in 2019. Like Germany, any doctor can prescribe cannabis in Australia with approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Because CBMP are unlicensed prescriptions, they aren’t available in every pharmacy and still need to be filled by specialists. Advertising is potentially stricter than the UK rules, but it is similar in the sense that the service rather than the product is what can be promoted. 

Much like the UK, the Netherlands has a thriving legacy market which provides access to unregulated products under tolerance schemes run at the police's discretion. In the Netherlands, this comes in the form of the coffee shops which have served cannabis products since the 1970s. In the UK, the legacy market takes shape via the cannabis social clubs. A large number of adults access their cannabis through these quasi-legal outlets.

The Netherlands was the first country to legalise medical cannabis and regulate the supply chain for patients through pharmacies and licenced cultivators. Even though the country pioneered the pathway, only 15,000 actively receive a prescription on a monthly basis, most people who want to buy cannabis can do so without much issue and it is more affordable with a wider variety of products through coffee shops than through a prescription. 

What are the roadblocks preventing the sector from growing?

There are numerous hurdles impeding the exponential growth of the medical cannabis sector in the UK. While there are certainly areas where cannabis clinics can enhance their practices, there are also barriers hindering their ability to reach the widespread awareness that prospective patients so crucially need. 

Giving GPs greater prescribing powers would increase the number of patients who could safely and easily receive a prescription for medical cannabis. It would also lower the cost, as GP's prices are less than specialist consultants.

The eligibility criteria for prescribing an off-licence medication could be altered, making it easy for people who have a serious medical condition to be approved without having to try multiple other drugs first. The government could also make cannabis medicines available on the NHS, which would give access to everyone in the UK. 


So, there we have it. The UK has a huge number of potential medical cannabis patients waiting for legal access. But in comparison to other countries, the UK is still lagging behind in terms of accessibility and affordability.

However, with continued efforts from clinics and government changes, we may see a significant increase in the number of medical cannabis patients in the near future. For now, we can say that the potential for medical cannabis in the UK is immense, and it's only a matter of time before more patients can benefit from this life-changing treatment.

Releaf understands that medical cannabis can be life-changing for many people. That's why we offer tailored monthly packages based on your cannabis prescription, 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.

Related Articles

03. 11. 2023

Awaiting Asian Adventure? Considering cannabis-based legislations when travelling in Asia

Daydreaming of exploring Asia’s incredible landscapes, culture, and vibrant cities is a common occurrence for many, and nations like the Philippines and Singapore feature on bucket lists around the world as a ‘must-see destination’. But, Asia is also extremely well known for enacting strict punishments to suspected drug smugglers and traffickers.

03. 11. 2023

Could Oceania be your Oasis? An Overview of medical cannabis rules and regulations in Oceania

Dreaming of idyllic white sand beaches and secluded spots in Polynesia, or experiencing extreme outback adventures in Australasia is a desire shared by many, and places like Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia feature on many people’s bucket lists. Yet, for medical cannabis patients, planning their dream holiday may be filled with dread - due to the confusing and often conflicting cannabis regulations in different countries.