Study Shows Scale of UK Medical Ilegal Cannabis Use

Liz Filmer
02 Jul 2024

New research has highlighted how many people are still using illegal cannabis for medicinal purposes in the UK, five years after the law change.

Despite being legalised in the UK in 2018, reports reveal that a large number of medicinal patients are continuing to obtain it through the illegal market. 

A YouGov poll suggested that roughly 1.8 million people in the UK may be using cannabis for medicinal reasons. This is a substantial upsurge from the 1.4 million estimated in 2019.

A total of 10,965 participants were asked questions related to their medical diagnoses, illegal cannabis use, the cost and how much cannabis they used per month, along with basic demographics. The findings show that 6.38% bought illegal cannabis to self-treat their health conditions.

When weighted against the representative of the adult population of the UK using census data from 2021, the researchers were able to estimate that 1.77 million UK adults are using unlawful cannabis for medicinal reasons. This is despite the existence of over 40 specialist clinics now prescribing the medicine privately.

Conditions which raised the probability of illegal cannabis use included chronic pain, PTSD, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and some mental health disorders.

55% of the study participants who used illegal cannabis for this reason were male and the most typical age group was 18-24. 44%of who said they were in full-time or part-time employment.

What are the Costs of illegal cannabis and barriers to legal access?

37% reported spending between £1-£99 on illegal cannabis per month. 19% told they spent between £100 to £199, with 13% spending between £200 to £299, 10% spending £300 to £399 and 7% spending £400 or more.

When asked why they chose illegal cannabis, the most common answer was that they assumed legal access was “difficult”, “expensive”, or “not suitable to get convenient treatment for their condition”.

Additionally, 48% reported that they had never discussed the matter with their doctor with one in five reporting that their doctor had “either advised against medicinal cannabis or that they did not know enough” about it.

The findings support the demand for adequate funding for randomised managed trials for cannabis use with conditions including chronic pain and anxiety, which affect roughly 3.99 and 7.73 million adults in the UK respectively.

Liz Filmer