EducationCan you get a medical cannabis prescription in the UK? 

Can you get a medical cannabis prescription in the UK? 

12 min read

Sam North

Can you get a medical cannabis prescription in the UK? 

Contents

‘Medical cannabis’ refers to any form of cannabis-based medicine administered to help treat or alleviate the symptoms of a medical condition. From chronic pain management to nausea-reduction, a growing body of research is pointing to medical cannabis as a viable treatment option for many illnesses.

Although recreational cannabis is still illegal in the UK, medical cannabis has been legally available to patients suffering from a wide range of health concerns since November 2018. However, obtaining it through the NHS is quite challenging, which is why many patients are turning to private clinics.

In this article, we’ll outline the primary patient eligibility requirements for medical cannabis and take you through a step-by-step guide to getting a prescription.

What is medical cannabis?

Medical cannabis refers to all cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) that are intended to be applied medicinally to help treat a variety of health conditions. It differs from recreational cannabis, which is illegally sourced, unregulated, and illegal to grow, supply, sell or possess.

Cannabinoids (or to be more precise, phytocannabinoids), the active compounds found in the cannabis plant, play a crucial role in influencing various aspects of our well-being. Among these cannabinoids, THC and CBD hold significant importance. By interacting with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), these compounds have the potential to impact a wide range of bodily functions, including pain management, inflammation, appetite regulation, and stress response.

This is due to the fact that our bodies also produce cannabinoids, which act as the chemical messengers responsible for keeping our bodily functions in balance. Endocannabinoids interact with the ECS receptors CB1 and CB2 to help regulate various biological processes within the body, and the similarity in chemical structures between them and phytocannabinoids enable exogenous cannabinoids (those taken in from outside sources) to also bind with the receptors.

Can you get cannabis on prescription in the UK?

Yes indeed. There are two pathways for obtaining medical cannabis in the UK, either through private clinics or on the NHS.

At the time of writing, the NHS will only provide prescriptions for a very limited range of medical conditions. These are:

  • Two rare forms of epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Nausea resulting from chemotherapy treatment

The Home Office has stipulated that treatment with a CBMP must be “clinically appropriate” and should only be prescribed if other treatments are not effective or have been tried first.

This means that getting a prescription from the NHS can be a difficult and lengthy process, and it is so heavily restricted that even if a patient is suffering from one of the conditions listed above, they are still not guaranteed a prescription. This is why more and more patients in the UK are turning to private clinics for their medical cannabis needs.

The process of getting a private medical cannabis prescription in the UK

Currently, only doctors listed on the 'Specialist Register' of the General Medical Council are able to provide private prescriptions for medical cannabis. This means they must have undergone additional training in the field and be fully approved by the regulator.

Fortunately, there are several private clinics in the UK that are authorised to provide medical cannabis prescriptions, Releaf included.

The process of receiving a prescription from a private clinic is very straightforward, and as follows:

Complete an eligibility assessment form

Some clinics will require you to visit in person, while others offer online services from the comfort of your own home. Either way, the first step is to contact a private clinic and complete a free medical cannabis eligibility assessment. This allows the doctor to assess your condition and determine whether medical cannabis is a suitable treatment.

You will also be asked to provide a copy of your Summary Care Record (SCR), so it is a good idea to visit your GP prior to your assessment and request either a physical or digital copy of your SCR.

Arrange an initial consultation

If the clinic determines you are a suitable candidate for a cannabis prescription, they will then book you in for a consultation with a specialist doctor. In your consultation, you will discuss your condition in detail and what you hope to achieve from a treatment of medical cannabis. 

During the appointment, you may be asked a series of questions, including:

  • Details about your condition and how it impacts your daily life
  • Previous treatments you have explored
  • Your expectations from medical cannabis treatment
  • Any prior experience with cannabis usage
  • Any past issues or side effects you have encountered with conventional medical treatments

Rest assured, the purpose of these inquiries is to ensure a comprehensive understanding of your situation and provide appropriate care. At this stage, if the doctor feels you are eligible, he or she will write you out a prescription. They will also discuss with you your dosage and how to administer it. Typically, they will start you off with a low dose and increase it over time.

Select a pharmacy and pay for your prescription

After your doctor writes a prescription, it must be processed by a suitable pharmacy. While many clinics have affiliated pharmacies to streamline the whole process, patients should know that they have the freedom to choose any pharmacy that dispenses medical cannabis products in the UK. You can request a copy of your prescription and take it to the pharmacy of your choice.

Arrange a follow-up consultation

Here in the UK, doctors are allowed to issue one medical cannabis prescription per patient per month.

After the initial consultation, it is recommended to make a follow-up appointment with your doctor. This is to monitor and adjust your dose as needed depending on your progress and response to treatment. Some clinics will automatically arrange follow-ups, but it is always best to check when receiving your prescription.

It is important that you keep track of how you are feeling during this process in order to properly assess the effects of your treatment. Keeping a journal or logbook can be helpful for this purpose.

Medical conditions that qualify for medical cannabis prescriptions in the UK

Private clinics have the authority to provide medical cannabis prescriptions for a much wider range of health concerns than the NHS. These include:

  • Appetite issues: Refers to a range of conditions affecting one's desire to eat, which can lead to weight loss or malnutrition, and also excessive weight gain.
  • Endometriosis: A painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing pain and fertility problems.
  • CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome): A chronic pain condition that typically impacts an arm or a leg and is believed to be caused by damage to or malfunction of the peripheral and central nervous systems.
  • Cancer: A group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells in the body, leading to the formation of tumours.
  • Nausea: An unpleasant sensation in the stomach that often precedes vomiting and can be caused by various factors such as motion sickness, pregnancy, or certain medical conditions.
  • Crohn's disease: A chronic inflammatory bowel disease that primarily affects the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and weight loss.
  • HIV and AIDS: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, potentially leading to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a condition characterized by a weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to infections and diseases.
  • Seizures: Sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain that can cause changes in behaviour, movements, or consciousness.
  • Multiple sclerosis: A chronic autoimmune disease that impacts the central nervous system, leading to a wide range of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness, and difficulty with coordination and balance.
  • Eating disorders: A group of mental health disorders characterized by abnormal eating behaviours and distorted body image, including conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
  • Glaucoma: A group of eye conditions that can cause damage to the optic nerve, leading to vision loss or blindness if left untreated.
  • Mental health conditions such as PTSD: A mental health disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and persistent anxiety.
  • Epilepsy: A neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, which are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
  • Muscle spasms: Involuntary contractions or tightening of muscles, often resulting in pain, cramping, or stiffness.
  • Chronic Pain: Persistent pain that lasts for an extended period of time, often caused by underlying medical conditions or injuries.
  • Alzheimer's disease: A progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects memory, thinking, and behaviour, eventually leading to severe cognitive decline and loss of independence.
  • Wasting Syndrome: A condition characterized by unintentional weight loss, muscle wasting, and general decline in physical health, often associated with advanced stages of certain diseases such as cancer or HIV/AIDS.

Types of medical cannabis products available in the UK

The range of cannabis based medical products available in the UK has grown significantly over the past few years. Here is a brief overview of some of the products that are available:

  • Dried cannabis or hemp flower: This is the raw, unprocessed form of cannabis or hemp that can be vaporized or used for making various cannabis-infused products.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) oil: CBD oil is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant. It is known for its potential therapeutic effects and is commonly prescribed for reducing inflammation, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil: THC oil is a concentrated form of the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. It is commonly prescribed for pain relief, nausea reduction, and appetite stimulation.
  • Cannabis tinctures: Tinctures are liquid extracts made by soaking cannabis in alcohol or glycerin. They are typically taken sublingually (under the tongue) and offer a convenient way to consume cannabis in a controlled dosage.
  • Cannabis edibles: Edibles are food products infused with cannabis extracts. They offer an alternative method of consumption and are available in various forms, including capsules, chocolates, gummies, and more.
  • Topical creams and ointments: Cannabis-infused creams and ointments are designed to be applied directly to the skin. They are commonly used for localized pain relief and can provide a soothing and therapeutic effect.
  • Vaporizers or inhalers: Vaporizers and inhalers are devices used to heat cannabis extracts or dried flower, allowing users to inhale the vapour. This method offers a smoke-free alternative for those who prefer not to smoke or want a more discreet way of administering their medicinal cannabis.

The potential side effects of medical cannabis

As with all medications, medical cannabis can cause unwanted side effects. 

Some people experience the following:

  • Increased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling sick
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Dry mouth
  • Paranoia or anxiety
  • Red, itchy eyes
  • Negative interactions with certain pharmaceuticals

These side effects usually subside as the body adjusts to the medication. However, if you are worried about the potential side effects of medical cannabis, it is important to discuss your concerns with a qualified doctor before beginning any treatment. They will be able to run you through all of the potential risks and benefits of medical cannabis and help you decide whether it is the right treatment option for you.

Conclusion

While the NHS in the UK currently limits the prescription of medical cannabis to a few specific health issues, there are additional options available for a wider range of medical conditions through private clinics. These specialized clinics offer a broader scope of medical cannabis prescriptions, providing patients with more opportunities to explore the potential benefits of this burgeoning treatment option.

If you believe that medical cannabis could be beneficial for your specific condition, it may be worth considering a consultation with a specialist clinic to discuss your options in greater detail.

To close out, it is essential to reiterate that medical cannabis should never be seen as some sort of 'magic cure all' for any condition.

It is best used as a complimentary treatment alongside other therapies and medications, providing additional relief and support for those living with chronic pain or illness. It is important to remember that cannabis should always be used responsibly, following the recommendations and advice of your doctor.

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.

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Authors

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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