EducationRevealing cannabis use statistics in the UK

Revealing cannabis use statistics in the UK

6 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Revealing cannabis use statistics in the UK

In 2019 Prohibition Partners estimated that around 4.7 million adults across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland consume cannabis, and almost 30% are believed to be using the plant to help manage chronic health conditions. However, by 2023 only 32,000 patients are thought to have secured a medical cannabis prescription despite its legalisation in the UK almost five years ago.


This article reveals cannabis use statistics in the UK, exploring the prevalence and patterns of cannabis consumption in the British population.

The prevalence and patterns of cannabis use in the UK

Although millions of Brits are consuming medical cannabis, only tens of thousands are accessing it legally and so, it has been estimated that medical cannabis patients alone are contributing over £3.5 billion to the illicit cannabis market each year.

In April 2023 we conducted our own research to understand more about the current cannabis climate in the UK and found that 1001 out of the 4210 respondents we surveyed had consumed cannabis at some point in their lives. This equated to 23.78% of the entire sample, 78.32% of these cited recreational reasons for consuming cannabis, whilst almost 17% indicated medical motivations.

In our survey, the 25-34 age range was the most likely age demographic to have consumed non-prescription cannabis with 34% of these respondents reporting its usage, followed by 31% of those aged 34-45 and almost one quarter (24%) of those in the 45-54 and 18-24 age brackets. Cannabis consumption was slightly more common in men, at 25% than in women, at 22%, but 3% of men and 4% of women involved in this study did opt out of answering this question.

In the case of medical cannabis, evidence from The European Cannabis Report suggests that in 2021, patients in the UK were most frequently prescribed cannabis-based treatments to help manage some form of chronic pain or anxiety. This is unsurprising due to the significant amount of research into the pain-relieving and anxiety-reducing properties of cannabis, and the significant number of patients in the UK living with these symptoms.

Statistics relating to health and cannabis

Although we know cannabis has the potential for incredible therapeutic and medicinal properties - when misused, serious consequences can occur. Around 1 in 6 of those who repeatedly consumed cannabis during their teenage years are believed to have developed issues with cannabis dependence, compared to around 9% of those who consume regularly as adults.

Chronic cannabis use during adolescent years has also been shown to have negative effects on brain development, impairing neural connectivity, which can in turn impair various cognitive functions.

Researchers have also discovered a link between regular cannabis use and an increased occurrence of experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, although a causality between the two has still not been established. Scientists do know that cannabis can increase the risk of experiencing significant issues with mental health in patients who are already genetically vulnerable or predisposed to conditions like psychosis and so, extreme caution is advised in these cases.

The current legal status of cannabis in the UK

Succumbing to political peer pressure and moral panic, the United Kingdom officially banned medical cannabis in 1971. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act the legal classification of cannabis was elevated to a Schedule 1 drug, declaring it a harmful substance that had no medicinal or therapeutic values.

However, 25 years later following the rescheduling of medical marijuana in California under Proposition 215 in 1996, medical cannabis advocates and activists in Britain started to gain more political attention. In 1998 an official report was sent to the government from the House of Lords, urging them to reconsider the plants' legal status in medicinal uses, however unfortunately it took a further 20 years for this legalisation to take place.

Cannabis-based products for medicinal use (CBPM) were legalised in the United Kingdom on the 1st of November 2018. Now a schedule 2 drug, medical cannabis can be prescribed to eligible patients by specialist doctors who have been approved by the General Medical Council.

The NHS impose further restrictions on cannabis prescribing, and specialist doctors with the NHS are only permitted to prescribe licensed cannabis-based treatments in extremely rare cases to patients with MS, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and to children with severe, drug-resistant forms of epilepsy. Due to this, very few prescriptions have been issued by the National Health Service, resulting in a lack of official NHS data.

The recreational use of cannabis is strictly illegal in the UK. Although the UK is the largest exporter of cannabis, for residents the cultivation, possession, and distribution of cannabis is illegal and classed as a criminal offence. Although most possession charges result in a simple caution, those found cultivating or supplying cannabis can be prosecuted and face a large fine and up to 14 years of imprisonment.


It is clear to see that the attitudes towards cannabis in Britain amongst policymakers have wavered throughout history, however, for the last ten years the public has remained split on one subject: the legality of recreational cannabis. This can be seen in the extremely similar results reported by surveys on drug reform dated a decade apart, with 53% of Brits favouring the legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis in 2013 and 55% supporting these proposals ten years later in 2023.

Financial reports indicate the vast economic impacts that cannabis legalisation may cause, from boosting taxable revenue and improving employment rates, to reducing spending in policing, prisons and court costs related to cannabis crimes by an estimated £890 million. However, there is some fear amongst the public that even decriminalising cannabis may lead to an increase in health problems as a result of taking drugs, and 23% of Londoners believed that decriminalisation may lead to an increase in crime.

Either way, 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.

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