Key points

  • Medical cannabis is available on prescription in the UK.
  • It is incredibly difficult to get a medical cannabis prescription on the NHS. Thus, very few people have an NHS prescription for medical cannabis.
  • Specialist private doctors can prescribe medical cannabis in the UK.
  • The process of obtaining a prescription is faster through private healthcare than the NHS.
  • You need to have a consultation before getting a prescription, and your medical cannabis prescription can only be dispensed from a specialist pharmacy. 

It can be difficult to get a medical cannabis prescription in the UK on the NHS. While doctors have been legally able to prescribe medical cannabis in the UK since 2018, there are several reasons why the process is much smoother with private practices. 

Getting a medical cannabis prescription on the NHS

You must first meet a number of criteria for the NHS to prescribe medical cannabis, including: 

  • Having one of two forms of severe epilepsy, suffering from MS or from chemotherapy-related nausea.
  • Having already tried other methods of treatment and found them ineffective.
  • Have medical cannabis prescribed to you by a specialist doctor. 

Once you go through alternative treatments for your symptoms and can show that these do not improve your condition or your quality of life, you may then be offered a medical cannabis prescription. 

The NHS has prescribed medical cannabis 4 times in the last 4 years, henceforth why many Medical cannabis patients seek guidance via private clinics.

Why is it difficult to get a medical cannabis prescription on the NHS? 

First of all, there are very few NHS prescriptions for medical cannabis in general. Within the first year following medical cannabis’ legalisation, there were no prescriptions made on the NHS. Since then, very few people have been able to access medical cannabis via the NHS to treat their conditions. 

Plus, guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) state that there is not yet enough evidence to support NHS prescriptions. As such, NHS doctors need to follow this guidance despite medical cannabis being a legal and valid treatment for many symptoms. Additionally, there is overwhelming evidence from clinical trials that medical cannabis can be effective in treating a variety of medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.

With so many barriers in the way of getting the medication you need for your condition, how can you get a medical cannabis prescription in the UK? 

Benefits of private practice medical cannabis prescriptions

Many people are turning to private practices to get their medical cannabis prescriptions. As you are paying for your own medicine through private practices, you have more options available to you for the treatment you receive. On the NHS, the area where you live and the Primary Care Service that covers the specialist in your area have a budget. 

This means that some treatments are available in some areas of the UK and not in others. The NHS needs to balance the cost of the treatment with how well it may improve lives, along with many other factors. This is to get the best value for money for taxpayers and the pot of money they have available to spend. 

This often means that difficult decisions need to be made, and often, where there is an alternative option, they will use that first. 

When you pay for your own healthcare through private practice, you have to make the decision about what treatment option you choose based on your personal budget. Your doctor will look at your whole lifestyle and symptoms before deciding if medical cannabis is the right route to take. 

This means that private practices can offer medical cannabis within the law and often do so faster than the NHS. You may not need to try every other possible treatment before you try medical cannabis. Private practices can also look at the whole wealth of studies available for treating your symptoms and conditions to know whether medical cannabis is the right option for you. 

Dangers of a long wait time

If you do decide to go through the lengthy NHS process, it is important to note that buying cannabis from the illicit market in the meanwhile is still considered illegal as it is classed as a Class B drug under the 1971 Dangerous Drugs Act. 

Equally, you have little, if any, control over the quality of substance you buy on the illicit market, so it’s not a good idea to self-medicate with illicit substances while you wait for your NHS prescription. On the other hand, when you get a medical cannabis prescription from specialist private doctors, they control the active ingredients in your medicine. 

THC is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – the part that makes you feel ‘high’ – and making sure the levels of THC are right for your needs is crucial. 

Likewise, how you ingest cannabis is different when a doctor prescribes it to you. Medical cannabis usually comes in an oral form such as oil, spray or tablet, and this prevents patients from smoking the substance. Cannabis smoking comes with many risks and side effects, such as lung disease. Plus, you never know what ingredients are really contained in the product you buy. 

A reduction in the waiting time that comes with privately prescribed cannabis also reduces the risk of you resorting to buying uncontrolled and illegal cannabis on the illicit market. 

How to get an NHS prescription for cannabis

To get a medical cannabis prescription on the NHS, you need to see a specialist doctor at a hospital. This is not a medication you can simply ask your family GP to prescribe. However, it is your GP who will refer you to the specialist who can provide a prescription. 

A specialist hospital doctor will talk you through your needs and then assess whether medical cannabis is the right option for you. It will only be prescribed when it’s in your best interests and when other options have either not worked or are unsuitable. 

The NHS states that they expect few people to meet the criteria for a medical cannabis prescription.

If you are eligible for a prescription, you will also need to use a specific pharmacy that can dispense the medicine. Your local pharmacy is unlikely to be able to dispense your medical cannabis.

How to get a private prescription for medical cannabis

As already discussed, the route to getting a medical cannabis prescription in the UK is usually much quicker through private practice. First, you need to find a clinic. The Medical Cannabis Clinics is one of the best options for patients in the UK. 

During the appointment, the doctor will conduct checks to see if you are eligible. This means looking at whether you have a qualifying condition and whether you have already tried two other solutions for your health issue before. 

Next, your clinic will need to check that your condition makes you eligible for a prescription. Usually, this means accessing your Summary Care Records from your GP. 

You will then need to attend an appointment with the clinic. This can be done over the phone, or you may need to go in person. The clinic will look at why other treatments haven’t worked and how your condition is impacting your life. This is your chance to explain if you are struggling to work, sleep, and live a normal life due to pain, nausea or other symptoms associated with your condition. 

The doctors will also be there to answer any questions you might have about using medical cannabis to treat your condition. If you have any fears or worries, this is the time to discuss them with your doctor. 

You may need to wait for a decision as to whether medical cannabis is right for you, as the doctors will want to carefully consider all information to give you a prescription that is in your best interest.

Getting a medical cannabis prescription in the UK

As mentioned earlier, a medical cannabis prescription will need to be fulfilled by a specialist pharmacist. When you get your prescription in writing, you will often be assigned a pharmacy where you will fill the prescription. 

It is at this point that you will need to pay for your medication. Once you’ve paid, you will need to wait for delivery. 

Your doctor will also need to conduct a follow-up appointment to understand how the medical cannabis is impacting your life and assess any side effects you may be experiencing. 

Equally, your doctor will also let you know how much medicine you need to take and how often – much like you would expect with any other medicine. It’s important to keep to these doses so that you have enough medical cannabis to last between prescriptions. 

What about Cancard? 

The UK recognises that some people with eligible conditions may have to wait for their medical cannabis. To help reduce criminal activity, the government has introduced the Cancard scheme. There are currently 17,000 Cancard holders in the UK. 

If you have an eligible condition and have tried two other solutions, then you may be able to register for a Cancard. If you are found in possession of cannabis, you can show this card to the arresting officer. It is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card, as buying and using cannabis in the UK is still illegal, but it is reported that 98% of police stops of card users have resulted in no further action. 

FAQs

How do I get a prescription for Sativex?

Sativex is the name of one of the two licensed medical cannabis medications. You can get a prescription through specialist private doctors for a wide range of conditions in the UK. First, you will need to book a consultation at a dedicated clinic like The Medical Cannabis Clinics and a doctor will access your records before meeting with you. You will then be able to explain how your condition is impacting your life and ask questions at your consultation. If Sativex is right for your needs, your doctor will prescribe the medication, and you will need to order it from a specific pharmacy. You cannot get Sativex through your GP, although if you meet certain criteria, they may make a referral to an NHS doctor. It is quicker and easier to access Sativex through a private practice.

Can you get medical cannabis for ADHD in the UK?

It may be possible to get medical cannabis for ADHD in the UK through a specialist private practice. You cannot get medical cannabis for ADHD on the NHS but it is still legal to take the medication on prescription from a registered private doctor.

How to get a medical cannabis prescription in the UK?

To conclude, your best route to getting a medical cannabis prescription in the UK is through a private practice rather than the NHS. You still need to have an eligible condition and have tried other options. It is not recommended to buy cannabis on the illicit market to treat your symptoms.

References

  1.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/medical-cannabis/
  2.  https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng144
  3.  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2338266
  4. https://www.dovepress.com/clinical-utility-of-dronabinol-in-the-treatment-of-weight-loss-associa-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-HIV
  5.  https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/38/contents
  6.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/medical-cannabis/
  7. https://www.vice.com/en/article/akdb5j/get-out-of-jail-cannabis-card-now-held-by-17000-in-the-uk
  8. https://www.cannavistmag.com/med-cann/almost-all-instances-of-stop-and-search-resulted-in-no-further-action-against-cancard-holders/