United Kingdom Experience

Globally, interest into the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis has been growing rapidly in the past 20 years. Many countries now allow or are considering allowing, the medi-cal use of cannabis or cannabinoids in some form. 

In the UK, medical cannabis can be prescribed by specialised doctors since November 2018 when cannabis was re-scheduled from schedule 1 to 2. This law change was largely a response to patient pressure, often from parents of children with serious conditions such as severe epilepsy.

Current regulations do not limit the types of conditions that can be considered for treat-ment. Cannabis-based medicinal products are prescribed on a case-by-case basis, and only when the patient has an unmet special clinical need. The decisions on whether to prescribe these unlicensed medicines must be made by a specialist doctor listed on the General Medical Council’s specialist register. 

To date, only few prescriptions for medical cannabis have been written in the UK, meaning that the majority of people using cannabis for medical purposes continue to attain cannabis illegally. Many doctors are reluctant to prescribe medical cannabis and are then confronted with a frustrated public. 

The further path of medical cannabis in the UK is lined with a range of challenges which need to be urgently addressed to successfully guide its use. We outline some of the major current regulatory controversies about medical cannabis in order to open the space for a discussion of the broad range of challenges facing clinicians, policy makers and patients today.