The Legalisation of Prescription Cannabis in the UK: Progress and Challenges


Thanks to the bravery of young Billy Caldwell on November 1st, 2018, the United Kingdom took a significant step in healthcare by legalising the prescription of cannabis-based medications by Specialist Clinicians registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). This decision was intended to provide patients suffering from various conditions with access to a new form of treatment. However, despite the positive testimonials from many patients about the efficacy of cannabis-based medications, several challenges have hindered its recognition and seamless integration into mainstream medicine.

Patient Testimonials and Efficacy

Since the legalisation, numerous patients have reported that cannabis-based medications have positively impacted their lives more than any other previously prescribed medications. These testimonials highlight the potential of cannabis in treating various conditions, yet there remains a significant gap in its formal recognition as a legitimate medicine. The personal stories of improved health and well-being underscore the need for more comprehensive studies and clinical trials to validate these claims and integrate them into standard medical practice.

Obstacles in Accessing Cannabis Medications

Despite the legalisation, patients face several obstacles in accessing their cannabis medications:

Lack of Stock Frequent shortages often force patients to opt for more expensive alternatives, causing financial strain.

Public Stigma – Negative perceptions and attitudes from the public, healthcare professionals, and law enforcement hinder patients from using their medication openly.

Legal and Knowledge Gaps – Law enforcement officials often lack awareness of cannabis’s legal status as a prescribed medication, leading to unnecessary legal troubles for patients.

The Need for Clear Guidelines

The absence of well-defined guidelines on the use of legally prescribed medicinal cannabis has led to a market driven by industry rather than medical needs. This situation has resulted in a semi-privatised sector where patients, including those unable to work due to disability, must pay exorbitant prices for their medication. In contrast, other medications supported by the NHS are accessible without causing financial distress to patients.

Historical Demonisation of Cannabis

Cannabis has long been demonised, affecting public and professional attitudes towards its use as a medication. Despite evidence supporting its efficacy, many health professionals and politicians remain reluctant to endorse its use. Overcoming these entrenched biases requires a concerted effort to educate the public and professionals about the benefits and proper use of cannabis-based treatments.

Educating the Public and Professionals

An evidence-based shift in public perception and comprehensive education for medical and law professionals is essential. Ensuring that those in need of cannabis medication can access it legally and without discrimination requires removing the stigma attached to its use. Education should begin at the student level in both medical and law schools to foster a better understanding and acceptance of cannabis as a viable treatment option.

Legal and Professional Challenges

Patients have reported instances where police have confiscated their legally prescribed medication, treating them as criminals. This underscores the critical need for educating law enforcement and healthcare professionals about the legal status and medical benefits of cannabis. Proper education can prevent such incidents and ensure that patients are treated with the respect and care they deserve.

The Need for Research and Clinical Trials

The criminalisation and prohibition of cannabis historically limited research into its medicinal benefits. The legalisation for prescription use has created a profit-driven market, but significant medical research and clinical trials are still lacking. Proper trials can validate cannabis-based medications and establish a legitimate industry with the same standards as other medical treatments.

Implementing Changes for Better Access and Regulation

To ensure cannabis medications are accessible and regulated properly, several changes are necessary:

Public Attitude Shift – Conduct proper clinical trials and education to change public perceptions.

Clear Guidelines – Establish unambiguous guidelines to prevent exploitation and ensure patient safety.

Dosage Guidelines – Develop standardised dosage recommendations based on research.

Patient Education – Inform patients on proper medication use, including non-combustible methods.

Terminology Change – Use clinical names for treatments to destigmatise cannabis.

Separation from Recreational Use – Maintain a clear distinction between medicinal and recreational cannabis to prevent the former from becoming privatised.

Non-Partisan Watchdog – Create a governmental and industry-appointed body to oversee the cannabis medication industry and address patient concerns.


The legalisation of cannabis-based medications in the UK was a milestone, but significant work remains to integrate these treatments into mainstream medicine. Addressing public stigma, educating professionals, and conducting rigorous research/trials  are essential steps. Clear guidelines and proper regulation will ensure that patients can access safe, effective, and affordable cannabis-based treatments, ultimately improving their quality of life. The patient’s choice in their treatment should be paramount, and healthcare professionals should be equipped with the knowledge and resources to offer cannabis-based medications as a legitimate option.

David Wright Chief Administrative Officer, I Am Billy

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