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How Many UK Patients Are Being Privately Prescribed Cannabis?

By Frank Schuler

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The United Kingdom is a fairly rough place when it comes to safe access to medical cannabis. The country’s medical cannabis program is notoriously restrictive, leaving suffering patients with little to no options depending on the situation.

For starters, the number of medical products that are considered to be legal in the United Kingdom is very low. Raw flower is not available to patients, and patients are not permitted to cultivate their own cannabis.

The National Health Service only allows cannabis-based products. Below is the definition of what that involves, via the National Health Service’s website:

There are three broad requirements that a product should satisfy:

  • The product is or contains cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol or a cannabinol derivative
  • It is produced for medicinal use in humans; and
  • It is a product that is regulated as a medicinal product, or an ingredient of a medicinal product.

The definition is necessarily broad to take account of the range of preparations which are cannabis-based that have been used for therapeutic purposes and to ensure that raw products/ingredients and intermediate products are captured.This is essential to ensure that where there is a clinical need, a patient will be able to access appropriate cannabis-based medicines and/or products can be made to meet any prescription.

Patients can get a prescription for a cannabis-based product through the National Health Service (NHS), however, as of last summer only 3 prescriptions had reportedly been issued by NHS.

Filling the void left by the NHS is private prescriptions. The prescriptions can only be issued by clinicians listed on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council, and even then, the products eligible for a prescription are limited.

According to a new report from Prohibition Partners, private prescriptions have risen in the last two years. Below is an excerpt from their report:

Based on Prohibition Partners’ calculations, which conservatively assume all quarters in 2021 are equal, the annual number of products for last year amounted to 23,466 – a 425% increase on 2020. Things are moving more quickly elsewhere in the UK. On the island of Jersey, with a population of just over 100,000 inhabitants, more than 2,000 prescriptions were filled from January 2019 up to late 2021.

To put the figures into perspective, Prohibition Partners estimates that there are as many as 1.4 million patients in the United Kingdom that would purchase medical cannabis products if they were able to.

With that in mind, the uptick in private prescriptions in the UK is welcomed news, however, the UK’s medical cannabis program still has a long way to go when it comes to improving safe access for suffering patients.

In addition to expanding the type of products that patients can acquire, such as raw flower, patients also need to be able to cultivate their own medicine if they choose to do so, among other much-needed improvements.

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