Cannabis-based medicine: a personal (UK) perspective

On July 17, 2021, something very wonderful and special arrived at our address in England: cannabis-based medicine prescribed by an English doctor. 

I published an article about what this delivery meant to us, over on Medium: Prescription cannabis and quality of life: a case study from the UK

Based on Medium's statistics, this could be the most widely-read article that I have written since I retired in 2019. Here's a quote:

"after four days of taking the capsules my wife was better in nine out of 14 ways, meaning there were improvements in, or reduction of, nine of the 14 symptoms...after seven days of cannabis-based medication, Chey is now enjoying improvement in 13 out of 14 areas."

What's so special about this UK cannabis? 

Friends and family will know that our household is no stranger to medical cannabis; Chey began exploring its potential to ease her pain and suffering even before we moved to California in 2011 and she received her medical marijuana card.

After considerable trial and error with different cannabis formulations—some of which she made herself—Chey found what worked for her: capsules containing a mix of the two main cannabis compounds, THC and CBD.

And when I say "worked for her," I mean: did such a great job of addressing her chronic musko-skeletal pain that she went from taking 140mg of morphine a day to zero, nought, none. She used cannabis to end years of heavy opioid use. Cannabis also put an end to years of nasty and unpleasant opioid side effects, not to mention recurrent medical harassment by doctors who accused her of being a drug addict.

When we decided to move from California to England in 2019 to be near my mum, who is now in her nineties, we knew that the Conservative government had changed the legal status of cannabis medications in 2018 to make them more accessible. What we didn't know until we got here is that the government's actions were in reality far less helpful than they sounded (a hallmark of Britain's Conservative governments for the last decade or so).

Three years on, this is still the case, with only a handful of Brits actually getting cannabis prescribed by the National Health Service. The result is that an estimated 1.4 million people in the UK are still using cannabis illegally for medical reasons. 

At the same time, a few thousand people in the UK have managed to navigate "the private option" in which you pay a special doctor at a special clinic to examine your case and legally write you a prescription. (I have described the process in this Medium article: Getting prescription cannabis meds in the UK legally: a beginner’s guide.)

When Chey's supply of California-sourced cannabis meds ran out, and her health got worse and worse, we decided to try the UK's pricey private option. This required many phone calls and emails, took many stressful weeks, and of course involved paying consultation fees and product costs. Not ideal for someone who is suffering multiple symptoms that are seriously eroding their quality of life.

Eventually, and very thankfully, we achieved the transformative delivery that happened in July. Since then Chey has been able to get her dose adjusted and her prescription renewed. Yet this is bad news as well as good news; it's good news for Chey, but bad news for millions of Brits who cannot afford to get cannabis through this process. This is clearly wrong.

Frankly, I fail to see how the UK's convoluted and deeply unethical three-tier approach to cannabis medication can continue in the face of mounting protests and outrage. Most Brits are repulsed by the current a situation in which "the rich get high quality cannabis meds, the poor do not, unless they take their chances breaking their law."

Fortunately, there are plenty of groups working to change this. I have included some here, along with some relevant articles:
Clearly, the absurdity of the current status of cannabis-based medicine in the UK is well understood in some circles. What is needed now is to spread that understanding and ensure that it reaches all corners of power and governance in the country. An enlightened approach to cannabis, led from the top, would enable huge improvements in quality of life for millions of people as well as generate jobs and wealth. Consider the manifold benefits of a blended model in which:

a. recreational use of cannabis becomes a revenue stream for UK companies (growers processors, dispensaries), employees of those companies, and of course the UK treasury, much akin to the alcoholic beverage industry today, and

b. the national health system provides affordable medicinal cannabis prescriptions to people in the UK who need them and thereby: reduces use of addictive opioids, treats conditions such as depression, anxiety, ME/CFS and Long Covid; potentially eliminates some conditions, such as childhood epilepsy; and generally improves quality of life for millions. 

There are no legitimate barriers to the UK adopting this model and becoming a world leader in responsible cannabis production, research, and medicine. I would certainly vote for this, and I have no interest in consuming cannabis myself. 

[Disclaimer: future changes to my health may create a personal interest in taking cannabis for medical purposes, but in the past I tried recreational use of cannabis and did not enjoy it.]


If you are writing about cannabis-based medicines, I have a request and a free offer. The request is that you use the more accurate terms "cannabis-based medicine" or "medicinal cannabis," and avoid using "medical marijuana." The latter is now widely considered to be inaccurate, confusing, and potentially inflammatory or prejudicial.

The free offer is a high resolution version of the public domain image below, created by me for anyone who is illustrating articles, brochures, blog posts, etc. about cannabis-based medicine. This image makes a welcome change from overused and grossly misleading graphics using smoke-shrouded foliage. Free to download from UnSplash using this URL:

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