Cannabis culture section

Medicinal Cannabis

Medicinal cannabis is legal in the UK, although it's very hard to get.

A brief history of significant moments in UK cannabis campaigning

The campaign to legalise cannabis as a medicine in the United Kingdom lasted from May 27th 1971 to November 1st 2018. Possession, supply and cultivation have been prohibited for anyone without a Government issued licence, the first of which was granted in 1998 to GW Pharmaceuticals after a patient group THC4MS was raided and arrested for making cannabis-infused chocolates and distributing them to patients suffering from tremors and spasms caused by Multiple Sclerosis.

GW Pharma remained the sole licence holder able to investigate the properties of cannabis, bringing two products to market Sativex, the 1:1 THC:CBD buccal spray for spasticity in MS and Epidiolex, a pure CBD extract in a tincture for paediatric epilepsy holding a monopoly on research and product development. These products are distributed globally but are not licensed in the UK, making it difficult for GPs and specialists to prescribe to patients.

The journey and the process were not easy. Sadly, many brave but vulnerable activists and campaigners were lost along the way, with medical conditions that could not stand the test of time for those in power to finally change the law. In 2015 corporate investment groups started making movements to lobby the Government, helping to generate news stories that increased public awareness and attention to the situation where many patients were living without legal cannabis prescriptions.

From 2011 UK Cannabis Social Clubs acted as a first line of support for patients with a harm reduction initiative that saw Police allow limited home cultivation under a tagged plant collective model. Police allowed these clubs to socially supply private members over 18 at private over 160 consumption lounges in a bid to enable patients to gain access to safer forms of cannabis than otherwise available on the streets.This proof of concept helped MP's gain trust for the idea that cannabis was both a medicine and it was something that didn't need as strict legislation around it as was currently otherwise being enforced.

Parents who had children with childhood seizure disorders like epilepsy and Dravet's Syndrome became the faces of the campaign of urgent need and gained a great deal of sympathy and compassion from the public and politicians, with the mainstream media fighting over stories of different children being denied access to Cannabis Based Medicinal Products on the NHS. United Patients Alliance held several parliamentary protests to highlight the ongoing injustice gaining more media attention and the vocalisation of a number of MP's to speak publicly about patients in their constituencies who are denied access and suffering or have been arrested for possessing or growing their own.

Finally, Billy Caldwell, a boy under ten with severe epilepsy who had over 100 seizures a day, was the centre of a campaign that helped push home secretary Sajid Javid into changing the law to allow CBMP to be prescribed by specialist consultants. Insiders at the time relayed that ministers were forced to change their minds not because they thought it was the proper thing to do but rather because they didn't want campaign organisations such as Volte Face using children as political tools in the media spotlight.

It took several months for the first prescribing clinics to open with an ounce of cannabis flowers costing around £900 with £250 appointment fees - an unsustainable cost for most patients. Four years on, and there are now 20 such clinics offering appointments with a specialist consultant who prescribes from a list of products acquired by specialist importers. Unfortunately, this model has not taken off and been as successful as think tanks and lobbying groups suggested to investors leaving the market on shaky ground. Failures of the model are primarily logistical, with patients unable to have their chosen strains continuously prescribed, meaning if you find a strain that works for you there may not be any left in 3 months because the clinic does not manage your requirement. They are just buying and selling cannabis to patients using the legally available channels.

Cannabis Based Medicinal Products are often lower quality than patients have been getting in the grey and black markets, which has stopped most patients from transitioning to a legal product and status.

In 2023 an estimated 20,000 registered patients are accessing medical cannabis in the UK. Still, these predictions could be higher than the truth as many patients have changed clinics creating the potential that patients have been counted twice. Compare this to the German market, where medical cannabis was legalised one year earlier, with 372,000 patients in 2021.

What is medicinal cannabis?

The use of cannabis as medicine

"Medicinal Cannabis" is cannabis grown under regulated conditions rather than the intended use of cannabis from any source.

The term Cannabis Based Medicinal Products (CBMP) refers to any legal cannabis product from a licensed producer, from flowers to extracts and any products made with any of their ingredients. CBMP are Schedule 2 drugs in the UK, meaning there is a strict set of provisions required to handle it or be involved with its prescribing or dispensing. Licences to cultivate cannabis are available in the application with the Home Office, as are manufacturing licences which enable the holder to process cannabis grown under licence into CBMP.

CBMP grown or made in the UK must remain in the UK as there is no authority to export currently. 100% of the product prescribed to UK patients from 2018 to 2023 has been imported from international producers.

Views on Cannabis

Views and opinions from professional bodies and the public

GW Pharmaceuticals

The UK company who have brought SATIVEX and Epidiolex, cannabis-based medicines, to the market were bought by Irish based Jazz Pharmaceuticals in 2021 for £7.8bn. GW Pharmaceuticals have subcontracted cultivators across the UK to grow large quantities of cannabis flowers for them with satellite licences.

One such example of this is British Sugar switching out tomatoes in their sustainably fueled greenhouses in favour of CBD flowers which are used to make the aforementioned Epidiolex. This caused a level of a public scandal when it was discovered that the Drugs Minister Victoria Atkins's husband was the CEO of British Sugar, all the while maintaining that cannabis was a harmful and dangerous drug with no medicinal benefits. The hypocrisy was undeniable. It then emerged that Theresa May, who had jumped from Home Secretary to Prime Minister, her husband was the investment manager for GW Pharmaceuticals at Capital Group, causing accusations that there were government ministers right at the top of the pecking order profiting off of prohibition and preventing patients from safely accessing cannabis medicine.

About GW Pharmaceuticals

Celadon Pharmaceuticals

The Home Office has granted the first company in the UK the licence to sell cannabis flowers grown in the UK to the UK market. The £7.7m facility is listed on the London Stock Exchange. In a press release shortly after they went public, they announced they had secured a £3m supply contract encouraging public investment. Celadon is conducting research and clinical trials into the medicinal use of cannabis, particularly in pain.

UK Home Office

Announcement cannabis is legal as a medicine
Medical Cannabis Resources & Information
Drug licensing factsheet: cannabis, CBD and other cannabinoids
Controlled Substance Domestic Application & Case Processing Guidance
Fact Sheet: Cannabis for Medicinal Use
Medical Cannabis & Road Safety


Cannabis Fact Sheet - Sunderland NHS
Medical Cannabis Information
Cannabis-based products for medicinal use

Medicines and Health Regulatory Authority

Guidance on legal Cannabis Based Medicinal Products
Process to apply for cannabis manufacturing (API)


Cannabis Based Medicinal Products
Guidelines for CBMP

British Medical Journal (BMJ)

Cannabis Based Medicinal Products Summary of NICE Guidelines

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Cannabis Based Medicinal Products

Food Safety Authority

Cannabidiol (CBD) Guidance for England & Wales
Register of CBD products linked with Novel Food applications
CBD Products linked to novel food applications
FSA takes next steps to regulate CBD

Future Policy

Medical Cannabis Access Bill (2021)

Health Canada - Patient Advice Leaflet

Information for medical users (pdf document)

House of Lords Debate 2001

Therapeutic uses of cannabis HoL debate
Government response

Medical cannabis fact sheets

The Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics
Fact sheets

Hi, I'm Jim. Today I share some footage I recent filmed, spliced together. In one lot of footage my symptoms are playing up and then the other I am medicated saying the same thing.


Active medicinal cannabis campaigns

webbud logo

Provides unbiased and impartial information about products, stock availability, pricing and access routes for patients to make an informed decision about purchasing their legal, medical cannabis. Their website looks like the stock market of UK CBMPs and is a valuable resource for keeping up to date with available strains. They keep an active presence on social media networks such as Twitter to interact with patients who can also email in pictures and reports about their cannabis.
Med Bud Wiki

releaf logo

Releaf Dispensary is the first of its kind, creating a membership subscription dispensing service with an all-in-one medical cannabis prescription package. They have created a large UK-based educational platform to learn about cannabis medicine for patients, medical professionals and students using the most up-to-date peer-reviewed published research. Releaf believes there is still a need for medical cannabis activism and is campaigning to remove the stigma surrounding cannabis consumption as a medicine. Releaf issued a medical cannabis card to all patients registered with them, which contains digital information about their prescription.

ukcsc logo

The UKCSC are the growers and cannabis social club union in the United Kingdom. Their primary campaigns have been to reduce the harm that cannabis consumers are at risk of through consumption and the law. They created a model to encourage non-profit cannabis clubs to operate private membership clubs. Members could grow their cannabis and supply it to clubs where other members could access it and get legal support if they were arrested. The UKCSC lobbied the Police and Police Crime Commissioners to allow them to operate under this model, and seven police forces out of 48 agreed to try this. The most notable and outspoken PCCs on this issue endorsing cannabis social clubs were Arfon Jones in North Wales and Ron Hogg in Durham. The Right to Grow (Right2Grow) campaign was the UKCSC's most important and ongoing message because, without the right to grow, patients are forced to buy cannabis, making it a much more expensive medication.
UK Cannabis Social Clubs

Sanskara logo

The Sanskara Platform is a patient-led advocacy group campaigning to remove the discrimination faced by patients with a cannabis prescription with careful strategies that help not harm. Two particular areas Sanskara aims to make progress in the soonest are driving with cannabis in your blood towards an evidence-based policy and educating housing associations on the rights of patients and what discrimination against patient-prescribed medical cannabis looks like.
The Sanskara Platform

Strains logo

Strains are the UK's guide to medical cannabis strains. The site contains valuable information about the different strains available to medical cannabis patients in the UK. It acts as an archive of past strains as well as those that are current. Visitors can see good visual pictures of what the flowers look like, a detailed description of the experience and effects with information about the THC or CBD content, terpene profile and which medical conditions it suits. This resource allows patients to filter cannabis by a medical condition or symptom relief to find the most suitable strains.

UPA logo

The United Patients Alliance campaign organisation is run by patients teaming up with corporate lobbying groups to push for specific actions and changes to the policy. UPA campaigned for cannabis on prescription with financial backing from private companies wanting to invest and profit from the medical cannabis industry.
United Patients Alliance

cancard logo

Cancard issue people who believe they use cannabis as a medicine a card to present to the Police if they are stopped with cannabis in the hope that Police use discretion not to take legal action against them. This has had some success but has left many vulnerable patients that would qualify for a prescription believing they are exempt from the law when they are in fact not. The card attempts to encourage the Police to allow patients to use cannabis which has not been prescribed; some patients have been let off, whilst others' card has been ignored because it has no legal status. This effort to legitimise black market cannabis that has not gone through any regulatory checks has drawn criticism from governmental bodies and, therefore, not been endorsed by the British Medical Association, Home Office and a majority of police forces across the UK.

voltface logo

The think tank Volte Face has secured significant investments from industry hopefuls that want to book a place in the UK market. They have strong political ties and media links and use their resources to create reports and discussions around the burgeoning cannabis industry. They have drawn criticism from cannabis consumer groups for ramping up the fears over THC's potential harms as a purposeful tactic to pressure the Government into regulating it as a harm reduction strategy. Unfortunately, this methodology has consequences that also increase the stigma around cannabis for adults who consume it as a safer alternative to alcohol or other medications. Volte Face was instrumental in pushing the medical cannabis policy over the line to meet the needs of their investors. Patients groups expressed upset that patients' right to grow was not seen as an important enough element to legalisation, effectively creating a policy for profit rather than the legal exemption for cannabis possession and cultivation in the way original medical cannabis policies were introduced in the US.
Volte Face

Drug Science

drug science logo

World-famous Professor David Nutt is the chairman of Drug Science. Once ousted by the Government, (he was an advisor on the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)) for suggesting MDMA/Ecstasy was safer than horse riding and refusing to change his mind when he was asked to; he now heads research into recreational and medicinal drugs. Drug Science is running the T21 study helping patients access cheaper CBMP in return for collecting real-life data that can be used to lobby for broader access to cannabis prescribing, such as through GPs.
Drug Science

cannabis industry council logo

The Cannabis Industry Council (CIC) is a self-formed industry body of interested stakeholders in the cannabis marketplace. They are licensed producers based in the UK or abroad, patient groups, B2C brands, legal firms and almost every element of the cannabis industry you could think of, all coming together with the common goal of improving cannabis policy, routes of access to medicine and achieving a fully legal regulated market for adults. The CIC is running a campaign "Protect Our Patients" campaign to expand medical cannabis prescribing powers to GPs.
Cannabis Industry Council

Further Reading & Resources

Cannabis Britannica: James H Mills
This epic book explores the history of medical cannabis' introduction to Britain through the Victorian Era.
Cannabis: Seeing Through The Smoke

Marihuana:The Forbidden Medicine - Lester Grinspoon, and James B. Bakalar
The book opened the door to doctors and medical professionals being able to speak about cannabis as a medicine again after the Controlled Substances Act 1970 made it prohibited to discuss such things in a medical setting.
The Story of THC4MS, UKCIA Letter to the Home Office and Reply from the Home Office

More information