1.4 million cannabis users in the UK

Liz Filmer
13 Feb 2023

More than a million people use cannabis to self-medicate in the UK, according to a YouGov poll. The survey found that there are estimated to be around 1.4 million users, half of whom use cannabis daily. Total spending on black market cannabis is calculated to be over £2.6 billion annually

Cannabis usage was seen across all demographics, with many people reporting taking it for various illnesses. For example, the poll found one-fifth of people with multiple sclerosis(MS) use it to self-medicate, along with 40 per cent of individuals with Huntingdon’s disease.

Additionally, nearly a quarter of a million people with arthritis use cannabis, 100,000 cancer patients, and many suffer from depression, anxiety and epilepsy.

The report ‘Left Behind – The Scale of Illegal Cannabis Use for Medicinal Intent’  was carried out by the Centre of Medicinal Cannabis (CMC).

In light of the poll results, the CMC has called on the UK government to review its policies around medical cannabis access as a matter of urgency.

After gathering the survey’s results, the industry body CMC has calculated that 653,456 people in the UK are currently using cannabis for depression, 182,583 for insomnia, 230,631 for arthritis, 586,188 for anxiety, 326,728 for chronic pain and 177,778 for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These findings quantify that almost 3% of the UK adult population chooses to use cannabis rather than traditional pharmaceutical drugs to treat their conditions.

Previous assessments put the number of people in the UK using cannabis to treat a medical condition at anywhere between 50,000 and 1.1 million people. However, due to concerns over reporting biases, the figures were never used in the national conversation surrounding drug policy.

Other European countries such as France and Denmark faced similar challenges but have been able to establish national medicinal cannabis trial schemes, which the UK government is being urged to do.

In a survey breakdown, the CMC found that British people use cannabis therapeutically across all age groups, social classes, family groups, genders, and locations. Almost half of the respondents spent over £100 per month on symptomatic relief. (71.4 per cent) of respondents were aged 18-44. Still, a significant number (14.6 per cent) were aged over 55.

In addition, consumers with Parkinson’s disease were likely to spend the most (£357 in some cases) on their monthly cannabis treatment. 

The data in the report demonstrates the ‘hidden’ personal, moral, and societal costs of using ‘street’ cannabis. It shows that the use of illegal cannabis ‘unnecessarily exposes’ users to substantial personal risk and calls on the government to review policies that block those who are suffering from accessing cannabis medicines legally.

Liz Filmer