Cannabis medicine UK: an update for 2023, with caveats

Stephen Cobb
4 min readJan 14, 2023
Image of cannabis plant and UK flag (created with Photoleap AI app, so they may own this; use of the app is not an endorsement; use at your discretion).

Cannabis has been legally available on prescription in the UK since 2018 but—and you might find this quite shocking—the vast majority of people who use cannabis for medicinal purposes in the UK today still acquire it illicitly, in other words, illegally (see YouGov poll cited here).

This is despite the fact that legal infractions involving cannabis in the UK can still have serious consequences, even for those who legitimately claim they are growing or consuming it for medical purposes; for example, if you are one of the millions of people living in the UK on an immigration visa, purchasing or using cannabis without a prescription puts you at risk of deportation.

In this short piece I am providing an update to my detailed beginner’s guide to getting prescription cannabis meds in the UK that I published on Medium back in 2021. Anyone considering taking the legal prescription path to accessing the medicinal benefits of cannabis should read that article and this update. Why? Because that legal path is a pretty rough one right now, as you can infer from this headline in Cannabis Health News:

Why are some UK patients choosing legacy over legal cannabis?

In fact, that article provides a detailed look at the range of problems currently inhibiting legal use of cannabis for medical purposes in the UK, backed up with statistics and personal experiences; I highly recommend you read it. (The term “legacy cannabis” means the illegal stuff.)

Personally, I’m very grateful to Cannabis Health News for the article, not least because it saves me from a lot of extrapolation. Allow me to explain. My writing about cannabis-based medicine is informed and influenced by the experience and research of my partner, Chey, who spent many years as a medical marijuana patient in California, as well as training to be a certified cannabis counsellor (e.g. see CannaMed Chey).

Sadly, during Chey’s first 18 months as a legal UK medical cannabis patient she has faced numerous problems obtaining the right dose of the right formula in the right format at the right time. To be honest, we’ve lost track of the hours spent on phone calls and emails struggling to get things ‘right’ and track down overdue deliveries. (This level of effort and stress is not what you need when you already have medical issues like chronic fatigue and joint pain, the amelioration of which is, ironically, one of the reasons you have a cannabis prescription.)

As the months went by, I became increasingly concerned that I had published an article that was helping people go down a path to legal medicinal cannabis that was far more rugged than it should be. Then, on top of the other obstacles to access, the monthly cost of Chey’s cannabis medication went up, by a lot, so I reached out on social media to see if Chey’s struggles were an exception. Sadly, they were not, but I didn’t feel I was in a position to reliably document the state of play for legal medical cannabis in the UK.

That’s why I was so thankful to see the evidence that Cannabis Health News has reported to highlight the barriers to widespread legal cannabis access. Despite medical cannabis being legal for four years, less than 1.5% of the 1.8 million Brits who use cannabis for medicinal purposes do so via a legal prescription.

Text box stating that “Four years after the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in the UK, approximately 1.8 million people with diagnosed medical conditions are still turning to illegally obtained cannabis to manage their illness.” Source: YouGov, 2022

Furthermore, while legal prescriptions are definitely growing in number, so is the total of number of Brits turning to cannabis for medicinal purposes. Frankly, this is a pretty miserable state of affairs. The current UK government seems to be:

a. uninterested in widening legal access to cannabis meds,

b. opposed to equitable cannabis access via the NHS, and

c. keen to perpetuate the absurd demonisation of cannabis as a gateway drug, one that is erroneously claimed to be dangerous to young people.

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done to change the government and usher in full legalisation of cannabis in the UK. If done right, this could reduce the cost of cannabis, increase the quality and range of cannabis products, and produce much needed tax revenue to fund the NHS. The result would be a healthier, wealthier, happier UK.

Until that happens, the only Brits that will have full access to the medical benefits of cannabis will be the rich and privileged. However, as more people see the growing evidence of how efficacious cannabis can be, the public clamour for cannabis treatment on the NHS will become overwhelming, and the immorality of “better healthcare because you’re rich” will be rejected.


Note: I have rarely partaken of cannabis myself, either recreationally or medically, with the exception of CBD oil that contains no THC (that’s the part of the plant that makes it illegal even though it is vital to many of the health benefits cannabis can deliver).



Stephen Cobb

Independent researcher into risk, tech, gender, ethics, healthcare, and public policy. A life spent learning, writing, and teaching. Now based in Coventry, UK.