EducationYour guide to medical cannabis prescription in the UK

Your guide to medical cannabis prescription in the UK

9 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Your guide to medical cannabis prescription in the UK


‘Medical cannabis’ is a term used to describe all forms of cannabis-based medicine. This medicinal option became a legal reality here in the UK on the 1st of November 2018, and since that time, we have seen a slow but steady incline of patients receiving prescriptions for a wide range of health issues. From anxiety and depression to chronic pain, medical cannabis may alleviate the discomfort that those dealing with medical conditions experience and can improve their quality of life. 

While medical cannabis is fully legal, a specialist doctor must prescribe it – and not your regular GP. Today, cannabis is not frequently prescribed for medical purposes through the NHS (although this is one avenue of access) but it is more widely available through private clinics.

How medical cannabis works

The cannabis plant produces an enormous range of chemical compounds, chief among for medicinal purposes them being the group referred to as cannabinoids, the most prominent of which are THC and CBD. These cannabinoids interact with our neural pathways, which can influence many bodily functions. These include:

  • Improving appetite
  • Reducing inflammation and pain
  • Alleviating anxiety
  • Providing stress relief
  • Enhancing mood

By providing the body with cannabinoids in a controlled manner, patients can find relief from their medical conditions. But how, exactly?

Well, it all comes down to the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is the largest neurotransmitter system in the human body, and it’s responsible for regulating a wide range of biological processes, from pain management to mood regulation. Researchers believe that it is the “master regulatory” system, and while it was only discovered in the late 80s, it is now believed to play a key role in our overall health.

When cannabinoids enter our bodies, they interact with the endocannabinoid system, and this is where their therapeutic effects come from. Depending on the type of cannabinoid (THC or CBD, for example), different benefits can be achieved.

Conditions treated with medical cannabis

The NHS restricts the number of conditions that can be treated using medical cannabis. They are the following:

  • Children and adults with certain forms of epilepsy
  • Adults suffering from nausea brought on by chemotherapy
  • People dealing with muscle spasms and discomfort from Multiple sclerosis (MS)

With private clinics, however, doctors are much more willing to prescribe cannabis for a variety of conditions, including:

  • Chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis, migraines, or fibromyalgia
  • Cancer symptoms and side effects from treatment, including anxiety, depression, loss of appetite and nausea from chemotherapy
  • Gastrointestinal issues, like IBS and Crohn’s disease. 
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy
  • Mental health problems like OCD, PTSD, anxiety, and depression

The medical cannabis prescription process

You cannot get a prescription for cannabis-based medicine from your GP, unless they are registered to do so (which very few GPs are). If you’re going through the National Health Service (NHS), you can only be prescribed by a specialist hospital doctor. If this is an option for you, you will be referred to by one of your doctors. 

If you go down the private route, as is the case for most people, the process will vary slightly depending on the clinic you visit.

Whether you go private or through the NHS, you will see a doctor listed on the specialist register. 

Steps to obtaining a medical cannabis prescription

Choose a clinic

There are currently 13 registered medical cannabis clinics and independent prescribers operating in the UK. Some specialise in particular areas, for example, chronic pain. If you would like to get the ball rolling right now and see if you are eligible for medical cannabis, feel free to reach out.

Fill in an eligibility assessment 

When you visit the clinic (or have an online consultation), they will ask you to fill in a free eligibility questionnaire. This is to gauge your medical history, your current state of health, and determine whether a prescription for medical cannabis is suitable for you. You may be able to do this via a virtual appointment if travelling to the clinic is difficult for you. 

To process your assessment, clinics will require a copy of your Summary of Care records.

Arrange a consultation 

If the clinic determines that you are a suitable candidate for a cannabis prescription, they will go ahead and book you in for a consultation with a specialist doctor. These can often be booked online or over the phone.

In your consultation, you will discuss your condition and how you expect medical cannabis to help ease any symptoms.

At this stage, if the doctor feels you are eligible, they 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. 

Forms of medical cannabis

Medical cannabis comes in a veritable smorgasbord of application options. The best one for you will depend on your lifestyle, personal preferences and needs. Your doctor will discuss this with you and prescribe you the most appropriate form.

Dry flower

If you receive your medical cannabis prescription in a dry flower form, you will be required to vaporise it in order to ingest it. 

The advantages of this method are that it is less expensive and a relatively pure form of the medicine. That is, it hasn’t been processed. 

The disadvantages, however, are that it can irritate the lungs, which can be especially harmful to those with respiratory conditions, such as asthma. It’s also harder to regulate the dosage and has a strong scent that may linger on your clothing.


Topicals are any creams, lotions, or balms that have been infused with cannabis. You apply them directly to the source of pain and they enter the bloodstream through the skin. 

The pros of topicals are that it’s an easy, discreet form of ingestion – especially when compared to vaping. It also works fast to provide localised pain relief, which can be very helpful for those with skin conditions such as eczema. 

On the other hand, there are some drawbacks to consider. Firstly, it is primarily intended for treating skin ailments and may not be suitable for addressing conditions like PTSD or epilepsy. Additionally, the effectiveness of these treatments often relies on the application of substantial quantities.


Patches are applied to hairless areas of the skin, like the wrist, and enter the bloodstream directly. Certain patches are designed to release medication gradually, ensuring a consistent and steady effect.

This method allows for systemic healing, with the dosage being easily controlled. However, it's important to note that some individuals may experience allergic reactions as a potential drawback.


Tinctures are commonly available in the form of sprays or drops. They offer the flexibility of being added to food or drink or administered directly under the tongue.

One advantage of using liquids is the discreetness with which they can be taken. Additionally, they are a healthier option for the lungs since there is no need for inhalation.

However, a drawback is that liquids may take longer to take effect compared to vaporizing. Moreover, they might be more expensive than other available alternatives.


Medical cannabis oils come as either CBD or THC dominant and can be administered in a wide variety of methods. It can be taken orally or added to food and drink, as well as inhaled via a vape device or taken sublingually (under the tongue).

One advantage is that they are easier to dose than other forms, since you can measure it out accurately. Additionally, it can be added to existing food and drinks, such as tea or salad dressings.

The main downside is that there are some risks associated with vaping, as some devices may rely on propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin for their base – both of which may possess toxic elements if heated above a certain temperature.


Edibles are a convenient method of taking medical cannabis, as they come in the form of gummies, chocolates, or confectionaries. All you have to do is eat them.

The advantages are that they’re easy to consume and don't require any special equipment.

The only real downside is that they can take anywhere between 30 and 120 minutes for the effects to be felt, and the contained cannabinoids are less bio-available than other methods, meaning that a higher dose may be required for the same amount of effect. This is due to the medication passing through the digestive system.

Regardless of the form you opt for, it’s important to ensure you’re taking the right amount. Always speak to your doctor before changing dosages, and make sure you follow their instructions.

Potential side effects of medical cannabis

As with all medications, medical cannabis poses a risk of side effects. 

Some people experience the following short-term side effects:

  • Increased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Behavioural and mood changes
  • Diarrhoea
  • feeling sick
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Negative interactions with certain pharmaceuticals, such as blood thinners. 

A long-term side effect can be changes to your mental health. There are studies linking cannabis use to psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, but these risks are extremely minimal, and are most often tied to patients with a family history of such conditions.

Your doctor will always discuss the side effects and risks with you before prescribing you medical cannabis. As a precaution, you will also likely begin with a low dose of the medication, which will gradually increase over time. This will reduce the risk of unpleasant side effects.


Medical cannabis can be an effective form of treatment for various medical conditions, and the UK provides a safe legal framework to access it. With appropriate guidance from your doctor and a tailored package from Releaf, you can rest assured that you're getting the best possible care.

Remember to always follow your doctor's instructions regarding dosage and application methods, as well as inform them of any side effects you may experience. If you're ever unsure, Releaf can support you and provide all the resources you need to make an informed decision about using medical cannabis. 

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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