Everything you need to know, including a step-by-step guide, for anyone interested in accessing a prescription for medical cannabis in the UK.
So you’ve heard about medical cannabis and think it could be a beneficial treatment for you? You probably have a lot of questions, like, am I eligible for a prescription? How much will it cost? And how can I get one?
Medical cannabis has been legal in the UK since November 2018, when prescribed by a specialist doctor, with around 20,000 patients now thought to hold prescriptions.
Unfortunately cannabis is not yet widely available on the NHS. However, a number of clinics are prescribing privately, both remotely and in person, for a variety of conditions.
Going into the process can be daunting, especially if you are not someone who has medicated with cannabis in the past.
Here we try to answer some of the most common questions you might have, with an independent, step-by-step guide to accessing a medical cannabis prescription in the UK.
What conditions is cannabis prescribed for?
Cannabis is now prescribed for a range of conditions, the most common being chronic pain.
How do I know if I’m eligible for a prescription?
In the UK, any doctor on the specialist register can prescribe for any condition if it’s thought to be in the best interests of the patient, although you may need to have tried at least two previous treatments without success. Some people get a referral from their GP or NHS specialist but this is not necessary.
There may be other factors which affect your suitability, such as a previous history or psychosis, but this can be discussed with your doctor during an initial consultation.
How much will it cost?
How much it will cost depends on the patient and what your doctor prescribes, but costs have been coming down in line with, or in some cases, lower than the legacy market.
The average monthly cost for flower-based products is around £200 – £300, based on the average prescription of 30g, with oil slightly more expensive. It is worth being aware that patients are often prescribed more than one product at a time, so costs can add up.
Consultation prices can vary significantly from clinic to clinic, from £49 to around £200 – so it’s worth looking around if budget is a consideration for you.
Some clinics also signed up to access schemes, which means the prices are reduced or capped, in exchange for patients taking part in data collection for observational studies, such as Project Twenty21 and Sapphire Access Scheme.
What is the process to accessing a prescription?
It’s important to note that each clinic varies in how they operate, so it’s best to check the website for the latest information, but generally the below should provide some insight into what to expect.
Step one: Choosing a clinic
Around 20 private clinics are currently prescribing cannabis in the UK. Some clinics specialise in certain indications such as chronic pain, psychiatry or integrative medicine, which may be appropriate for you.
You can find a full list of prescribing clinics here to see which one best suits your needs.
Step two: Complete an eligibility assessment
Your chosen clinic will usually ask you to complete a free eligibility assessment or questionnaire, to get an idea of your current health and medical history and whether a prescription could be right for you. In some cases this may be a short virtual appointment with someone from the clinical team.
Very few applications are turned down at this stage, unless the doctor feels there is a reason not to prescribe due to safety concerns.
At this point, clinics will usually ask for a copy of your Summary of Care records from your GP, so your doctor has access to all the relevant information ahead of your initial consultation. Sometimes the clinic is able to access this directly, but it may be up to you as the patient to request it. (Anyone has the right to request their medical records from the surgery – but be prepared it may take a bit of chasing.)
Step three: Arrange an initial consultation
If you are deemed a suitable candidate for a prescription, the next stage is to book an initial consultation with a specialist doctor at the clinic. These can usually be booked online through the clinic’s website.
Questions you may be asked during the appointment include:
- Information about your condition and how symptoms affect your daily life
- Previous treatments you have tried
- What you expect to get out of medical cannabis treatment
- If you have used cannabis in the past
- Any issues or side effects you have experienced previously
This is also an opportunity for you to ask any questions you might have, so go prepared, especially if you have not used cannabis before.
If the doctor feels it’s appropriate they will write your first prescription. They may prescribe flower or oil, but if you have not had cannabis before, they often start with an oil.
They are advised to start you on a low dosage while you work together to find the delivery method and dose for you.
Step four: Choosing a pharmacy and paying for your prescription
Once your doctor has written your prescription it then needs to be processed by an appropriate pharmacy.
Most clinics have pharmacies associated with them, however, patients should be aware that they do not have to use the pharmacy which is recommended by their clinic or doctor. You can ask for a copy of your prescription and take it to any pharmacy which is dispensing medical cannabis products in the UK.
Once your prescription has been processed the pharmacy will contact you to make payment. Your prescription should be sent to you via courier within 48 hours of payment being received.
We do know of reports of patients experiencing delays in receiving their prescription and/or products not being available. If this happens to you or you have any issues with the product at all, contact the pharmacy directly.
Step five: Follow-up consultation
Doctors are only allowed to issue one prescription per patient each month, so you’ll need to book a follow-up consultation.
During this appointment your doctor will review your progress and may adjust the product or dose depending on how you have got on.
Most patients have a positive experience with medical cannabis and many go on to find they have a better quality of life than before.
But it is not for everyone. If at any stage you feel that cannabis isn’t working for you there is no obligation to continue with the treatment. However, it is worth noting that cannabis can be a process of trial and error, so if the first prescription isn’t right, don’t lose heart.
Most doctors would advise patients to give it at least three months, enough time to titrate to a therapeutic dose and for your body to fully respond to the effects of the medication.
This article was reviewed for accuracy by experts from the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society.
It is intended for educational purposes only, always consult your doctor before making any changes to your medical care.
This article was originally featured on Cannabis Health News.