New Figures Show That 784 More Private Medical Cannabis Prescriptions Were Made In The UK Last Year Than Previously Thought

AS PLEA’s (Patient Lead Engagement for Access) Medical Cannabis Awareness Week (#MCAW2022) launches in the UK this week, fresh figures suggest growth in the number of privately prescribed, unlicensed medical cannabis items dispensed last year was even higher than previously thought.

While growth is expected to continue throughout 2022, these figures also suggest the level of growth might be slowing down. 

Separate data from a recently published study in the Journal of Cannabis Research, argues that a ‘significant portion of the population’ are still unaware of the availability of medical cannabis, and that this ‘lack of understanding’ is a key barrier to access, and therefore growth. 

As strides are being made across Europe to open up access to cannabis, the ongoing political turmoil and outspoken ambitions of the Home Secretary to upgrade cannabis to a class-A substance mean that any help from the Government to spread awareness is unlikely to be forthcoming in the near future. 

New Picture of Growth

New data from a recently updated freedom of information request, seen by BusinessCann, has given an early glimpse into the size of the UK’s medical cannabis market in 2022. 

It shows that medical cannabis prescriptions in January 2022 reached their highest level on record, and were over six times those seen in January 2021. 

One item here refers to a single product on a prescription, e.g. if a patient is prescribed three packages of Tilray 25:1 oil and one of Noidecs 20:1, these would register as just two items.

DateNo. of Private Prescriptions% Change on Previous Month
This information is licenced under the terms of the Open Government Licence. NHSBSA Copyright 2022. 

For the first quarter of 2022, subscriptions hit 19,148, up 355% year on year. On a quarterly basis however, subscriptions appear to have grown only by around 2% from 18,713 in the three months to December 31 2021. 

Although this seems to suggest growth is slowing, it is likely these figures will increase over the coming months due to the way they are reported. 

Pharmacies are not required to send this information to the NHS straight away, resulting in a significant lag in accurate data, as seen in April and May 2022. 

This is further evidenced by the change in figures between June and November 2021 since BusinessCann last reported on the prescription numbers in July this year. 

Between these months, an additional 784 prescriptions were reported, including 649 in October, meaning that figures regularly increase months after they are first reported. 

Barriers to Access

In late October, Minister of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Nusrat Ghani confirmed that the Government had no plans to directly aid the expansion of the country’s flourishing medical cannabis industry.  

In a response to a written question, Mr Ghani said: “The Government have no plans to assess the potential economic merits of establishing a British-based medical cannabis industry. We will continue to support the Life Science sector through delivery of the Life Science Vision.”

A number of initiatives across the UK are however continuing to push for greater awareness, education and access for patients across the UK, including PLEA’s #MCAW2022, and a crowdfunding initiative from The University of York, Drug Science, and the Cannabis Industry Council in an effort to demonstrate the viability of prescribing cannabis on the NHS.

According to a new study, published on October 29, 2022, Medical cannabis, CBD wellness products and public awareness of evolving regulations in the United Kingdom, just over half of the UK population are aware that medical cannabis is legal in the UK. 

A poll of 10,684 participants conducted in March 2021 found that 51.4% believed medical cannabis was legal, despite November 2022 marking the four year anniversary of the change in legislation.

Subsequently, 48.6% either did not know medical cannabis is legal or believed that it is illegal. 

After being asked what they thought the main barrier to people discussing medical cannabis with their doctor in the UK was, just over a quarter (25.1%) said it was the association with recreational cannabis. 

A further 21.3% said it was because they were unsure if it was legal, while 17.4% said it was because they were unsure what it would be able to treat. Meanwhile, just 2.7% cited costs as a barrier. 

Erridge, S., Coomber, R. & Sodergren, M.H. Medical cannabis, CBD wellness products and public awareness of evolving regulations in the United Kingdom. J Cannabis Res 4, 56 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-022-00165-6

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