EducationKey cannabis statistics in the UK revealed

Key cannabis statistics in the UK revealed

9 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Key cannabis statistics in the UK revealed


Key cannabis statistics in the UK revealed

For at least five thousand years (and likely even longer), cannabis has been utilized for medicinal purposes. The earliest recorded mention of medical cannabis can be traced back to ancient China in 2737 BCE, where it was administered for pain relief and various other medicinal uses. And on top of medical application, cannabis has been used for recreational and cultural/spiritual purposes across many cultures dating back to more than 12,000 years ago. Researchers believe it may be one of the very first plants to be 'domesticated' and grown in an agricultural setting, and has remained an influential plant up to the present day.

Today, cannabis is a hot topic around the world as more countries are legalising it for medical application and/or recreational use. While recreational cannabis remains illegal, in recent years, the UK has seen a growing interest in medical cannabis, particularly since legalisation for medical use was put into place in November 2018.

In this article, we will explore the key cannabis statistics that relate to the UK, taking every angle into account. We reveal the most poignant cannabis facts that relate to the prevalence and purposes of cannabis consumption in the UK, explore the crime statistics that relate to the illegal possession of cannabis, and explain the facts and findings from market research and observational studies within the medical cannabis sector.

Cannabis prevalence in the UK 

Earlier this year, here at Releaf we conducted our own research to uncover more on the prevalence and perceptions of medical cannabis administration in the UK. In our survey of 4,210 Brits, 23.78% told us that they’d consumed cannabis at some point in their lifetime. Only 0.2% had been prescribed this medicinally, but almost 17% of those who said they had tried cannabis before, indicated medicinal motivations for doing so. 

Another 2023 report, which was conducted using a YouGov survey, suggested that around 1.8 million people in the UK are thought to be accessing cannabis illicitly to manage the symptoms of a health condition they live with. They estimate that this contributes around £3.57 billion each year to an illegal, criminal black-market economy. 

Statista also offers some interesting insight into drug use statistics in the UK, and more specifically cannabis user statistics from the UK – breaking these down into medical consumers and recreational user rates.

Cannabis use trends

Statista reports that according to the Office for National Statistics, the percentage of 16 to 59-year-olds in the UK who have consumed cannabis at some in their lifetime has remained relatively stable since 2001. Between 2001 and 2002, 28.9% of the population had consumed cannabis at some point, and between 2020 and 2021, 31.2% reported the same.

Statista also published data from the UK Cannabis Report, which was conducted by Prohibition Partners in 2019. This report estimates the prevalence of medical cannabis patients in the UK, stating there were an estimated 32,784 people using medical cannabis in 2021, but by 2024 they predicted this figure would be ten times larger at 337,886. 

Data from the UK’s largest medical cannabis registry shows the average age of a medical cannabis consumer in the UK is 42 years old and the average BMI of these patients sits in the overweight category, with a mean score of 27. This data comes from an observational study of 2,833 patients on the UK’s medical cannabis registry, 56.94% of whom were female. Of these patients, only 28.66% had never tried cannabis prior to having it prescribed for a medicinal purpose, and there were 31 different diagnoses included in this sample.

Health effects of cannabis use

Cannabis has been used medicinally for millennia around the world to treat a large variety of ailments and illnesses – with a varied level of success. After many years of prohibition, in 2018 the UK altered the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, allowing specialist doctors to prescribe and authorise the use of medicinal cannabis and cannabis-based medicines in the appropriate circumstances. 

In the UK, medical cannabis can be prescribed by doctors who appear on the General Medical Council’s Specialist Register, to help patients manage with: 

  • Chronic Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy                                                                                        
  • ADHD
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Sleep Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Migraines
  • Motor Neuron Disease
  • Sciatica
  • Chronic Menstrual Cramps
  • Appetite Disorder
  • Chemotherapy-induced Nausea
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Menopause or Premenopausal
  • Gut Health Diseases
  • Rare or Challenging Skin Conditions
  • Tennis Elbow

Due to the extensive evidence that suggests that there are anti-inflammatory, antianxiety, anti-seizure, antitumour, and analgesic properties contained within the compounds produced by the cannabis plant, people living with health conditions that cause inflammation, anxiety, disturbed sleeping, seizures, or pain may be eligible for cannabis-based treatments. 

However, there is also evidence to propose that chronic cannabis consumption may cause dependency issues, impaired cognitive function, or even psychotic episodes, so it is important to ensure prescribing decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, relying on the clinical evidence available. 

Because of this, in the UK, patients typically have to have tried at least two conventional treatment options that have been unsuccessful in managing their condition before being considered eligible for cannabis-based treatments. 

Most commonly, people take medical cannabis to manage their chronic pain or anxiety, which can often stem from a number of other physical or mental health conditions. Our survey indicated that as many as 50% of the UK population are currently living with a health condition that may be suitable for the application of cannabis-based treatments.

Cannabis use and criminal activity

Because cannabis is a Class B drug in the UK, and considered an illegal substance if it has not been prescribed by a specialist doctor, the statistics surrounding cannabis-related criminal activities give insightful data into the true cannabis climate in the UK. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, cannabis has been consistently the most used drug in England and Wales since records began in 1995. The House of Commons Library strengthened this by adding that cannabis possession was the leading drug offence recorded by the police in England and Wales between 2020 and 2021. 

In custody records obtained from the Metropolitan Police in 2020, cannabis possession was stated over 12,000 times, however, there were in total of 133,805 cannabis possession-related incidents recorded between 2020 and 2021. This implies the majority of suspects were cautioned as opposed to being taken into custody. 

In 2018 The Tax Payers Alliance reported that it costs around £450 to keep a person in police custody for just 12 hours, and that 1,363 people in England and Wales were serving time in prison for cannabis related offences.

This report went on to suggest that if the UK did fully legalise cannabis, around £200 million of police budgets would be saved. This figure takes estimates relating to the cost of officers' time and resources, forensics, court costs, legal aid, as well as probation and prison services and savings for the Crown Prosecution Service, into account. 


So, while there have been inroads made in terms of the legality of medicinal cannabis here in the UK, and that is (in our opinion) a great thing, there is still a long way to go in terms of education surrounding exactly what conditions medicinal cannabis can treat, and there is still a certain level of stigma surrounding cannabis administration that needs to be addressed in order for people to feel comfortable accessing treatment options without fear of judgement or legal repercussions.

Thankfully, with this current wave of change, cannabis is no longer being seen as an illegal substance that leads directly to crime and disorder – it's now recognised for its medicinal properties and the important role it can play in managing a range of health conditions. As the medical community continues to conduct research and gather evidence on the benefits of cannabis in therapeutic settings, it is essential to advocate for responsible use and ensure that patients are receiving the proper guidance and support in their treatment journeys.

Don't let the stigma surrounding medical cannabis prevent you from getting a suitable treatment. Releaf provides tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, 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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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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.

Further reading

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