United Kingdom

Source: William Notcutt

Last update: 3 December 2008


Medicinal Cannabis
  • Plant Cannabis in any form (leaf, bud, resin etc.) is a Schedule 1 drug and not available for regular medicinal use.
  • Sativex, a medicinal extract, is licensed for:
    - Use in clinical trials
    - As an unlicensed drug for named patients. As such, it is managed and prescribed as a Schedule 4 drug
  • Nabilone is a synthetic cannabinoid, licenced for use in chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting and is a Schedule 4 drug. It is widely used to treat pain and spasticity.
  • Dronabinol is not available in the UK
  • All cannabinoids are available for use in basic research projects.

    Recreational Cannabis
  • Plant Cannabis in any form is a Class "C" illicit substance. This is the classification for legal purposes and reflects the potential harm of the drug. It also helps determine the punishment for possession or supply.
  • Currently the UK Government wants to reclassify Cannabis to "B" against the advice of the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
  • Growing any Cannabis (for medicinal or recreational purposes) is illegal except under a Government licence. There are no exceptions.

    Court Rulings

    The defense of "Necessity" was used by patients growing or using plant cannabis as a medicine. This defense was taken to the House of Lords in 2004 and rejected.


  • Prosecutions for the possession of small amounts of cannabis for obvious medicinal use seem to be rare these days. This reflects a sympathetic and pragmatic approach by the police and judiciary.
  • Industrial growers and suppliers for the recreational market are the main target of the police.
  • Politicians and the media focus heavily on the potential psychiatric harm particularly in adolescents. However, the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has reviewed the evidence and do not find any strong links.
  • Sativex has been undergoing clinical trials for 8 years now and still does not have a licence for clinical use. There is an increasing amount being used off-licence on a named-patient basis.