Is Cannabis Legal in the UK?

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Jun 26, 2024
Last updated:
Jun 26, 2024

Here are two opposing statements, both of which are true:

  • Cannabis is illegal. It's a Class B drug. The maximum penalty for possession is five years in prison or an unlimited fine.
  • Cannabis is legal. It’s a medicine. Evidence shows it can help with a wide range of health issues, such as epilepsy and anxiety.

Confused? Don’t worry. We can explain.

What is Current Legal Status of Cannabis in the UK?

First, let’s outline the difference between recreational and medical cannabis. Because while it may seem obvious, getting it wrong could come at a high price. 

Recreational cannabis

Put simply, this is cannabis used for enjoyment. 

People have done it as far back as Ancient Greece (or even further, if you include religious and spiritual contexts), often for the ‘high’ that comes from the plant’s psychoactive component, THC.

Fast-forward to today, more and more places are legalising cannabis – from Germany and Georgia to Uruguay and 20+ US states – for adults to buy and consume as they please. 

The UK is not one of them. Cannabis remains illegal to possess, grow, sell or consume. 

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, cannabis is a Class B substance (and, bar a five-year period in the mid-2000s, when it became Class C, always has been). This puts it on par legally with substances like GHB, speed and ketamine.

As such, any recreational cannabis use in the UK breaks the law by its nature – with the plant either home-grown or bought from the black market. 

Though a ‘Cannabis Warning’ is more likely than arrest these days, the threat of prison and a hefty fine still exists, when people are found with small amounts of cannabis for personal use. 

(As you might imagine, sanctions for selling or dealing are far greater.)

Medical cannabis

This is cannabis which is being prescribed or used to treat a specific health issue. 

As data grows about the benefit of medical cannabis for a wide range of health problems (from anxiety and ADHD to Parkinson’s and dementia), so does the list of countries where it’s legal.

The UK legalised medical cannabis in 2018, yet through the NHS, only a tiny portion of patients qualify or have been prescribed. These are:

  • Children and adults with rare, severe forms of epilepsy – treated with Epidyolex, a liquid that contains CBD (a non-psychoactive compound).
  • Chemotherapy patients with vomiting or nausea – treated with nabilone (marketed as Cesamet), a man-made form of cannabis, that mimics the effect of THC, taken as a capsule.
  • Multiple-sclerosis (MS) patients with treatment-resistant muscle stiffness and spasms – treated with nabiximols (Sativex), sprayed in the mouth.

For all other conditions, patients have to seek help from a small number of UK-registered, private clinics – like Alternaleaf.

Can I Buy Cannabis Legally in the UK?

While it’s a detailed, step-by-step process, the short answer is yes. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. First, you need a confirmed diagnosis from a GP for your condition – for instance, ADHD and must have been offered two different treatments. Depending on your condition, this might be medication, physio, surgery or talking therapy. 
  2. Still not 100% sure if you qualify? Most clinics will help you determine whether you’re eligible before you need to make a payment, for example, Alternaleaf offers free eligibility 30 second pre-screening questionnaire to determine whether you might qualify for legal medical cannabis treatment.
  1. Once you’ve checked your eligibility and booked an appointment with a private cannabis clinic like Alternaleaf, you will need to get a copy of your medical records from your NHS GP. You can request these via telephone, email or in person.
  1. Once you have submitted your medical records to the clinic, you will have an online appointment with a specialist doctor who will ask you about your condition, treatments and previous cannabis experience in order to tailor a prescription for your condition.
  1. Once your prescription is ready, you can purchase your prescribed medication online and it will be delivered straight to your home.

Summary

Ok, let’s recap:

  • Legal, recreational cannabis has become the norm in many countries, but not the UK. Here, it’s against the law to use it and, while penalties for possession are rare, they can happen.
  • The UK legalised medical cannabis 5+ years ago. Yet it’s only available on the NHS for a very small number of conditions (like drug-resistant epilepsy, or a severe reaction to chemotherapy).
  • Medical cannabis is only legal when prescribed by a specialist doctor. Self-treating with cannabis – even if it helps your symptoms, and there’s evidence to suggest it works – is still illegal, and open to the same penalties. 
  • You can get a medical cannabis prescription – for a variety of health issues – so long as you follow the necessary steps.

If you have a health condition and past treatments haven’t made things better, you may qualify for a medical cannabis prescription. 

To find out more, contact Alternaleaf today