Are you looking up how to get medical cannabis in the UK? If you are then you're in the right place. Discover how to get an affordable prescription. Answers to the key questions: How to get CBD on prescription? Who's eligible? What products are available? How different are these to CBD supplements? Information from the NHS website on medical cannabis.
How To Get A Prescription For Medical Cannabis In The UK
Did you know that just 6.5% of all cannabis-based medicines prescribed in 2019 were filled out via the NHS?
Coming the year after the law changed to allow doctors to legally prescribe cannabis medicines, the change in mindset for many specialist doctors moved much slower than the law.
Even now over two years on, the estimated number of prescriptions on the NHS is still believed to be in the low hundreds, while around 1.4 million people in the UK are using cannabis to treat their own medical conditions.
However, according to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, cannabis is a Class B drug and so cannot be legally used without a prescription.
Remember that police forces may get involved if they find you buying cannabis illegally, no matter what the purpose.
Many NHS doctors are still cautious to prescribe medical cannabis, despite the overwhelming evidence from clinical trials for a variety of medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
This is largely due to guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which continue to state that there is a lack of evidence to support NHS cannabis prescriptions, despite such treatment working for thousands of people across the UK.
Nonetheless, the reality for many is that NHS prescriptions are not a realistic avenue to explore cannabis-based medicines.
Instead, many across the country are turning to private medical cannabis clinics to offer cost-effective cannabis medicines within a timeframe that works for them.
What are the rules around cannabis prescriptions?
Medical cannabis refers to any medication that contains cannabis and has been legal for specialist doctors to prescribe since November 2018.
This means that GPs cannot fill out a cannabis prescription, but they can refer patients to the right medical professional in order to do so if they agree that a prescription is the right course of action.
These decisions are still largely made on a case-by-case basis. By law, a medical cannabis prescription can only be given out “when the patient has an unmet special clinical need that cannot be met by licensed products”.
That means that patients will need to pursue other forms of treatment before being able to try prescribed medical cannabis. Products such as CBD or hemp oil can be sold legally as food supplements and are not subject to the same laws as medical cannabis.
How to get medical cannabis in the UK
For many people in the UK, the only realistic way to access cannabis for medical purposes is through a private prescription. Finding a clinic that suits you should therefore be your first step.
How to fund a private cannabis prescription
Of course, private medical clinics are not always financially accessible to everyone. Nonetheless, efforts are being made to provide everyone who needs it with access to cannabis at a cost that they can afford.
For example, Project Twenty21 allows eligible patients to access treatment at a capped price. In return, the effects of the treatment will be tracked by Drug Science and go on to provide evidence for NHS funding of cannabis treatment.
Many clinics across the UK have partnered with Project Twenty21 in order to make medical cannabis as easily accessible as possible. It’s hoped that the data collected from Drug Science will also help to change NICE’s guidelines and make cannabis-based medicines more widely available in the future.
What to expect from your appointment
When you first talk with someone from a medical cannabis clinic, you will be asked to share access to your medical records. This is to ensure that you have a condition that entitles you to a cannabis prescription and enables the medical professionals to find the right program for you down the line.
To speed up the process, it’s a good idea to contact your GP ahead of time and request a copy of your Summary Care Record (SCR), which includes, at a minimum:
- Any current medication(s)
- Allergies and details of any previous bad reactions to medicines
- Your name, address, date of birth, and NHS number
If a diagnosis of the condition that entitles you to a cannabis prescription is not included in your SCR, you can also request a referral letter from your GP. The key requirement is that you must provide a confirmed diagnosis of one or more qualifying conditions. If you are uncertain about any part of this, the clinic will likely be able to assist you.
Once your medical records have been shared, you will need to require a consultation with someone from your chosen clinic. This will either be in person or via a video call and your consultant will conduct an assessment with you.
Questions within the assessment will cover what treatments you might have tried in the past, why they haven’t worked, what symptoms from your condition you are experiencing, and how your condition is affecting your life day-to-day.
The consultant will also likely ask if you’ve used cannabis for medicinal purposes before and what the effects were. All of these questions are to identify whether cannabis is the right course of action for you.
In some cases, your case may also be presented and discussed with a multidisciplinary team, to get a full sense of how the treatment may affect you and your condition moving forward. Remember that you have the right for anything you discussed to be left off your records if you would like to.
This is not only the time for your consultant to get to know you but also for you to get to know your chosen clinic. If you have any concerns, questions, or fears about the process or about your cannabis prescription in general, this is the time to ask them.
It’s a good idea to take notes throughout your consultation so that you have all the information discussed to hand later on. Lots of topics may be discussed, so it’s easy to forget some points later on.
Getting medical cannabis on Project Twenty21
Project Twenty21 is an initiative designed to allow eligible patients to access treatment at a capped price. In return, the effects of the treatment will be tracked by Drug Science and go on to provide evidence for NHS funding of cannabis treatment.
Many clinics, including The Medical Cannabis Clinics, across the UK, have partnered with Project Twenty21 in order to make medical cannabis as easily accessible as possible. It’s hoped that the data collected from Drug Science will also help to change NICE’s guidelines and make cannabis-based medicines more widely available in the future.
With Project Twenty21, different clinics charge different prices, ranging from £90 – £200 for an Initial Consultation and a Follow-up Consultation costs between £60 – £150. At The Medical Cannabis Clinics, we believe that everyone eligible should be able to get access to the medication they need, and so aim to keep costs as low as possible for our patients and only charge £90 for an initial consultation. Follow-up consultations are charged at £65.
Can I get a prescription for medical cannabis?
Cannabis can help to treat symptoms for a wide range of conditions. The private sector still adheres to the same laws as the NHS, and so can prescribe cannabis-based products for specific conditions, including:
- Chronic pain
These are to name just a few. You can find a full list of the conditions that are eligible for a medical cannabis prescription here or talk to your GP to see if you can get a referral letter. You are required to have tried two other forms of medication in order to be eligible for this treatment option.
Can a private doctor prescribe cannabis?
Cannabis prescriptions are currently most often provided through private clinics than via any other means in the UK. It’s often the faster way to get a medical cannabis prescription.
You can book an appointment with a specialist now through The Medical Cannabis Clinics in just a few minutes. Appointments start from just £70 and, once you’ve had a consultation with your doctor, you can receive your prescription at a local pharmacy of your choice. If you have any questions about how to get medical cannabis in the UK, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our Patient Advisors.
Frequently asked questions
How much does medical cannabis cost in the UK?
Although the cost of medical cannabis does of course vary from person to person, depending on their condition and dose, the cost of a monthly dose starts from £75 to £120 per 10 grams at The Medical Cannabis Clinics. Medication is usually prescribed in doses of around 1 gram per day, 7 grams per week, and 30 grams per month, on average.
Where does medical cannabis come from in the UK?
Medical cannabis must be sourced from licensed producers according to UK law. Different brands of medical cannabis may source their products from different locations, often from countries in the EU and Africa.
Can anyone get medical cannabis on prescription in the UK?
You can only get medical cannabis on prescription in the UK if you have a specific eligible condition. The people most likely to be prescribed medical cannabis on the NHS are children and adults with rare, severe forms of epilepsy, adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy, and people with muscle stiffness and spasms caused by MS. Eligible patients must also have sought other forms of treatment previously.
Can I apply for medical cannabis in the UK?
If you have been diagnosed with one of these qualifying conditions , you may be able to apply for medical cannabis in the UK. The first step is to speak to your GP and see if they will refer you to a specialist doctor or book a consultation with a private medical cannabis clinic.
Can you get medical cannabis in the UK?
If you are eligible, you will be able to discuss a treatment plan with a specialist doctor or medical cannabis clinic consultant to find the right dose for you and your condition.
Who qualifies for medical cannabis?
You must have a qualifying condition, including a number of pain conditions, neurological conditions, psychiatric conditions, gastroenterological conditions, side effects from cancer treatment, and more. You must also have sought treatment from other means.
Can you get CBD on prescription?
CBD is available on prescription in the UK, but the process can be time consuming and expensive. The latest National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines have prevented the NHS from supplying anything but a small selection of licensed cannabis-based products.
However, the introduction of several private cannabis clinics means that a range of CBD and cannabis products can be prescribed if a specialist doctor believes it’s the only practical option.
CBD products on this site are sold as food supplements. They are not intended to assist with the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, or cure of any disease, ailment or medical condition. Any statements provided on this site are for information only and do not constitute medical advice. Read our full legal disclaimer for more information.
What products are available?
In the UK, cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans’ (CBPM) fall into two main categories.
These are medicines that have been trialled and approved by the MHRA for specified uses. There are three cannabis-based medicines licensed for use in the UK:
- Epidyolex (aka epidiolex) – This is a pharmaceutical preparation of CBD designed for oral consumption. It has 100mg per ml, which is about 10%. The pure CBD is mixed with sesame oil, dehydrated alcohol, strawberry flavour and sucralose. Specialists can only prescribe Epidyolex for seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
- Sativex – This is a mouth spray produced from cannabis with a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. A specialist can prescribe it for moderate to severe cases of the muscle stiffness caused by Multiple Sclerosis.
- Nabilone – Also known as Cesamet, this is a synthetic cannabinoid that can be prescribed by a specialist if other medicines are unable to reduce the severity of the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
Because these medicines are licensed, their use is strictly controlled. Unless you’re receiving specialist treatment for one of the conditions mentioned, you won’t get a prescription for them.
An unlicensed medicine hasn’t yet been through the authorisation process, or is being used for a different reason to that outlined in the license. Medications like this will only be prescribed after careful consideration by a multidisciplinary team of specialists. They must look at the evidence available and decide if an unlicensed medicine is the best option.
Despite the slightly worrying term ‘unlicensed’, these products are produced to strict MHRA standards and sourced from pharmaceutical companies. There may not be enough evidence to apply for a license, but they won’t be prescribed unless the prescriber has weighed up all the options.
Unlicensed cannabis-based medications available in the UK include:
- Cannabis flower
- Hemp flower
- Cannabis oil
- CBD oil (doctors can prescribe higher daily amounts than is allowed by the current FSA guidance for CBD food supplements.)
- THC and CBD products for vaporising
If you receive a prescription for an unlicensed cannabis-based medication, the type and cannabinoid content of what you receive will depend on what your specialist doctor thinks is appropriate for your condition. They will write the prescription and the pharmacy will try to source it. With several specialist cannabis clinics opening in the UK, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to find a pharmacy that can fill your prescription.
Who is eligible for a prescription?
You’re eligible for a prescription for a CBPM or CBD oil if a specialist doctor believes that it’s the most appropriate medication for your condition. This is likely to be after you’ve tried several other options and your remaining choices are limited.
However, you’re only likely to receive a prescription from a private specialist doctor or a cannabis clinic. This is because NHS doctors follow the guidelines outlined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). These currently recommend that:
- Doctors should not prescribe CBD or THC for chronic pain.
- Nabilone may be used for specific cases of nausea and vomiting.
- Sativex is appropriate for some adults with MS.
- Epidiolex should only be used as part of a scientific study.
If you choose to pay for a consultation with a private specialist, they may prescribe a CBPM if you have one of the following conditions:
Cancer-related appetite loss
Inflammatory bowel disease
Irritable bowel syndrome
Autistic spectrum disorder
Alzheimer’s disease symptoms
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Traumatic brain injury
Multiple Sclerosis Neuropathic pain
Functional neurological disorder
Motor neurone disease
Muscular dystrophy symptoms
Degenerative disc disease
Spinal cord injury/disease
Post-operative surgery pain
Sleep disorder Posttraumatic stress disorder
Having a diagnosis for one of these conditions does not automatically qualify you for a CBD or medical cannabis prescription. But, if you’ve unsuccessfully tried conventional medications and there are no more available to you, you may be eligible.
How can I get a prescription?
If you’ve exhausted all other options to treat your condition, you can book a consultation with a private specialist doctor or cannabis clinic. Although any doctor on the special register of the General Medical Council can legally prescribe CBPM, some may be reluctant to and might not have access to pharmacists who can fill the prescription. The best option is cannabis clinics staffed by specialist doctors who can guide you through the process and fill your prescription.
In most cases, the cost of a private consultation, repeat appointments and medication can range from a total of between £200 to £450 per month. The medicine itself is costly because multiple companies are involved from farming to production and delivery. At each stage, extra costs are added, resulting in an expensive end product. However, there are now a small number of companies who own every step of the process so are able to keep the costs down.
Although the process differs with each clinic, these are the likely steps involved:
- Find a clinic. Several options can easily be found on Google.
- Visit their website and complete the online form. They will likely want to collect personal and medical details, including permission to access your records.
- If you’re accepted to the next stage, you should receive information on how to pay for and book an appointment.
- Attend the appointment. This will be with a specialist doctor and may be over the phone or in person. It will likely involve a discussion about your condition and possible treatment.
- If they decide to prescribe you a CBPM, they will talk you through the options, including possible strengths and strains. If you want a CBD-only product such as CBD oil you can discuss this with the doctor at this point.
- Most clinics will now pass your prescription to their pharmacy who will contact you to arrange payment.
You may be eligible for a subsidy with Project 21
Project 21 is an ambitious research project that aims to create a large body of evidence on the effects of cannabis-based medicinal products. To do this, they hope to recruit more than 20,000 participants and offer them a £150 per month subsidy towards the cost of private medical cannabis.
To be accepted, you must have a history of at least two prescribed medications, that failed to manage your condition effectively and a diagnosis of at least one of these conditions:
- Anxiety Disorder
- Chronic Pain
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Substance Use Disorder
- Tourette’s Syndrome
If you’re eligible for Project 21, you’ll still need to make an appointment with a clinic and follow the steps above to be assessed for a prescription. However, there is a list of approved Project 21 partners that are the best place to start.
What is the difference between prescribed CBD and CBD food supplements?
CBD oils and other products with concentrations ranging from 1% to 50% are already legal and available in the UK. There are also many brands whose products undergo third-party lab tests and meet high quality and safety standards.
The difference with prescribed CBD is that a doctor will match a specific product and strength to your diagnosis. Because it’s an unlicensed medicine, they aren’t bound by the same restrictions as retailers are for food supplements. They can prescribe daily amounts that could even be as much as 1000mg if they consider it necessary. They could even prescribe a product with a higher level of THC if they believe that it’s the best course of action for you.
Currently, prescription CBD oils are likely to be slightly more expensive than food supplements and they have the additional cost of private doctors’ appointments. However, clinics and suppliers are working together to bring the prices down and make it more accessible for those who need it.
Since the legalisation of medical cannabis in 2018, it’s taken a disappointingly long time for genuine patients to be able to access the treatment they need. However, now things are moving faster. If you go private, you can get an appointment with a specialist doctor with the ability to prescribe CBD oils and cannabis-based medications.
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Tom Russell writes extensively about CBD oil and other groundbreaking food supplements. He and his wife share their home with two daughters and a lifetime’s collection of books.
Medical cannabis (and cannabis oils)
Many cannabis-based products are available to buy online, but their quality and content is not known. They may be illegal in the UK and potentially dangerous.
Some products that might claim to be medical cannabis, such as CBD oil or hemp oil, are available to buy legally as food supplements from health stores. But there’s no guarantee these are of good quality or provide any health benefits.
Specific cannabis-based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. These are only likely to benefit a very small number of patients.
Can I get a prescription for medical cannabis?
Very few people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis.
Currently, it is only likely to be prescribed for the following conditions:
- children and adults with rare, severe forms of epilepsy
- adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherapy
- people with muscle stiffness and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis (MS)
It would only be considered when other treatments were not suitable or had not helped.
Epidyolex for children and adults with epilepsy
Epidyolex is a highly purified liquid containing CBD (cannabidiol).
CBD is a chemical substance found in cannabis that has medical benefits.
It will not get you high, because it does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in cannabis that makes you high.
Epidyolex can be prescribed by a specialist for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome (both rare forms of epilepsy).
Nabilone for chemotherapy patients
Many people having chemotherapy will have periods where they feel sick or vomit.
Nabilone can be prescribed to adults by a specialist to help relieve these symptoms, but only when other treatments have not helped or are not suitable.
Nabilone is a medicine, taken as a capsule, that has been developed to act in a similar way to THC (the chemical in cannabis that makes you high). You may have heard it described as a “manmade form of cannabis”.
Nabiximols (Sativex) for multiple sclerosis (MS)
Nabiximols (Sativex) is a cannabis-based medicine that is sprayed into the mouth.
It is licensed in the UK for adults with MS-related muscle spasticity that has not got better with other treatments.
There is some evidence medical cannabis can help certain types of pain, though this evidence is not yet strong enough to recommend it for pain relief.
In some cases, however, it may be prescribed for pain as part of a clinical trial.
What about products available to buy?
Some cannabis-based products are available to buy over the internet without a prescription.
It’s likely most of these products – even those called CBD oils – will be illegal to possess or supply. There’s a good chance they will contain THC, and may not be safe to use.
Health stores sell certain types of pure CBD. However, there’s no guarantee these products will be of good quality.
They tend to only contain very small amounts of CBD, so it’s not clear what effect they would have.
Is medical cannabis safe?
The risks of using cannabis products containing THC (the chemical that gets you high) are not currently clear. That’s why clinical trials are needed before they can be used. “Pure” products that only contain CBD, such as Epidyolex, do not carry these unknown risks linked with THC.
But in reality, most products will contain a certain amount of THC.
The main risks of THC cannabis products are:
- psychosis – there is evidence that regular cannabis use increases your risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia
- dependency on the medicine – although scientists believe this risk is probably small when its use is controlled and monitored by a specialist doctor
Generally, the more THC the product contains, the greater these risks are.
Cannabis bought illegally off the street, where the quality, ingredients and strength are not known, is the most dangerous form to use.
What are the side effects?
Depending on the type of medical cannabis you take, it’s possible to develop side effects such as:
- decreased appetite
- feeling sick
- a behavioural or mood change
- feeling very tired
- feeling high
- suicidal thoughts
If you experience any side effects from medical cannabis, report these to your medical team. You can also report them through the Yellow Card Scheme.
CBD and THC can affect how other medicines work. Always discuss possible interactions with a specialist.
CBD can also affect how your liver works, so doctors would need to monitor you regularly.
How do I get a prescription?
You cannot get cannabis-based medicine from a GP – it can only be prescribed by a specialist hospital doctor.
And it is only likely to be prescribed for a small number of patients.
A hospital specialist might consider prescribing medical cannabis:
- for epilepsy – if you (or your child) have one of the rare forms of epilepsy that might be helped by medical cannabis
- for MS – if you have spasticity from MS and other treatments for this are not helping
- for chemotherapy – if you are vomiting or feeling sick from chemotherapy and other anti-sickness treatments are not helping
The specialist will discuss with you all the other treatment options first, before considering a cannabis-based product.
A prescription for medical cannabis would only be given when it was believed to be in your best interests, and when other treatments had not worked or were not suitable.
It’s expected this would only apply to a very small number of people in England.
If the above does not apply to you, do not ask a GP for a referral for medical cannabis.
Will the laws on cannabis be relaxed?
The government has no intention of legalising the use of cannabis for recreational (non-medical) use.
Possessing cannabis is illegal, whatever you’re using it for. That includes medical use cannabis products, unless these have been prescribed for you.