Understanding the UK Medical Cannabis Confusion

19th December 2019

The UK government may have effectively legalised medical Cannabis in November 2018, but there are still some wildly confusing requirements before a patient can access the medication. We’re outlining some of the medical Cannabis policies and guidelines, to understand the UK medical Cannabis confusion…

The UK legalise medical Cannabis in November 2018. However, the number of Cannabis prescriptions remains extremely low, due to a lack of specialists and UK-based evidence around the products. A recent study commissioned by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis found that up to 1.4 million opt to self-medicate with illegal for pain conditions.

Import and Export of Medical Cannabis

The UK remains the world’s largest exporter of Cannabis products for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. The nation contributed a massive 44% to global exports in 2016.

However, UK patients can only access medical Cannabis products imported from overseas. This is despite England being home to GW Pharmaceuticals – the largest medical Cannabis exporter in the world – and an evidently successful medical Cannabis production sector.

Once a prescription is secured, an import license must be authorised by the UK Home Office. This can take over 28 days, during which time, the prescription will have expired.

Importing Cannabis to the UK is also expensive for overseas Cannabis suppliers. This means that the price of medical Cannabis products has become the highest in Europe.

For example, according to the Cannabis research group, Prohibition Partners:

“German Cannamedical could profitably sell medicinal cannabis to domestic pharmacies in Germany at €10 a gram, but would need to sell for £30 a gram in the UK to achieve the same profit margin.”

Lack of Cannabis Education

A lack of education around medical Cannabis also contributes to the underwhelming number of prescriptions in the UK. UK law dictates that prescriptions may only be issued by a specialist or a doctor under advice from a specialist.

In November, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) released its official recommendations for the application of medical Cannabis. It stated a number of conditions should qualify for such a prescription.

However, there is a relatively low number of such specialists in the UK. Prohibition Partners claims that, of 180,000 doctors in the UK, only a handful have been educated in the endocannabinoid system.

Until the domestic medical Cannabis market in the UK becomes more accessible, and education of the endocannabinoid system and Cannabis itself becomes more widespread, it is likely that high costs and confusion will continue to define the UK medical Cannabis sector.

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