What does "Medical cannabis" mean in the UK?

Liz Filmer
19 Jun 2022

Medical cannabis is a broad term for any cannabis-based medication that reduces symptoms. Many cannabis-based products are available online, but their quality and content are unknown. They may be illegal in the UK and potentially harmful. Medical cannabis products, such as CBD oil or hemp oil, are available to buy legally as food supplements. Still, there is little to no guarantee that these products are of decent quality or will provide any health benefits.

Specific cannabis-based products are available in the UK through the NHS on prescription. These products are thought only to benefit a very limited no of patients.

How do I get a prescription for medical cannabis?

Currently, medicinal marijuana is only prescribed for the following conditions:

  • Adults and children with severe, rare forms of epilepsy
  • Chemotherapy-based vomiting and nausea
  • Symptoms of MS include muscle stiffness and spasms.

Even in these cases, it would only be considered when other treatments were unsuitable or had not helped.

What about self-medicating?

Many studies report that medical cannabis may be of benefit for many conditions. The substance remains a class B drug by law, so if you decide to try cannabis as a medicinal aid, it is at your own risk. Anecdotally cannabis has been said to help with symptoms of the following conditions.

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Crohn's disease
  • Epilepsy and seizures
  • Glaucoma
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Chronic pain
  • Severe nausea or vomiting caused by chemotherapy

Is medical cannabis safe?

Further study is needed, but possible side effects of medical cannabis may include: 

  • Increased heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Slower reaction times
  • Negative drug-to-drug interactions
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Increased appetite
  • Potential for addiction
  • Hallucinations or mental illness
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Approved Cannabis Medicine

Many Food and Drug Governing bodies have approved some cannabinoid-based medications cannabidiol, including Epidiolex, Sativex and Dronabinol.

Epidiolex and Sativex can be used for some forms of severe epilepsy. Dronabinol can be used for nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy and for anorexia associated with weight loss in people with AIDS.

What you can expect

Dependent on your condition and situation, Medical cannabis can come in different forms, including

  • Pill
  • Liquid
  • Oil
  • Powder
  • Dried leaves
  •  Edibles

How often you use it depends on its form and your symptoms. Your symptom relief and side effects will vary based on your type. The quickest impact occurs with the inhalation of the vaporized form of cannabis.

Liz Filmer