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Is the cost of medical cannabis coming down?



Many patients are still emptying their savings to fund prescriptions

Medical cannabis has remained out of reach for many due to notoriously high monthly costs. But this year a UK clinic introduced a range of products which it says is cheaper and safer than what can be found on the black market, Joe Roberts reports.

Since the medical use of cannabis was legalised in 2018, very few people have received an NHS prescription for the drug. According to a report released in July 2020 from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), only 18 cannabis-based medicines were prescribed through the NHS in 2019.

With this amounting to just 6.5 percent of total medical cannabis prescriptions, many have turned to the private sector, but prescriptions are expensive, with some patients reporting costs upwards of £2,000 per month.

As a result, the majority of medical cannabis users have had to self-medicate, with around 1.4 million patients relying on the illicit market to access their treatment.

Speaking to Cannabis Health, chair and outreach director for Patient-Led Engagement for Access (PLEA), Abby Hughes, said: “Whilst the cost of obtaining a private medical cannabis prescription has significantly reduced, the reality is that the monthly cost for most patients is entirely unsustainable.

“Patients have emptied their savings pots or are forced to use their entire disability benefit to cover the costs and are then left struggling to make ends meet.

“Many are returning to the illicit market or having to withdraw from the benefits they have found.”

In October of this year, London-based medical cannabis practice, Sapphire Medical Clinic, announced that it would be the first organisation in the UK to offer access to a new range of UK manufactured medical cannabis products which are cheaper and safer than products found on the illicit market.

The clinic says a number of its patients have now begun treatment with the new range of products at an average cost of £5 per day including appointments.

Dr Michael Platt, medical director and consultant pain physician at Sapphire Clinics said: “We have certainly seen in the clinic that financial constraints have been a significant barrier to access for many patients.

“As treatment becomes more affordable, we hope this provides an immediate solution for those patients who would otherwise benefit from medicinal cannabis but have previously been unable to afford the associated costs of treatment.”

One of those patients, 38-year-old Leigh Sherman from Peterborough who suffers from general anxiety disorder, has seen the cost of his prescription fall from £300 per month in early 2020 to just £80 for a two-month prescription.

Before securing prescribed medical cannabis, Leigh was self-medicating and sourcing cannabis on the illicit market at a cost of £70 per week, which he said was “inconsistent and unsafe”.

“The last nine months have been completely life-changing. I am now able to make plans for my future such as moving house and securing full time work,” said Leigh.

Meanwhile, Lorna Bland, 57, from Surrey who has the chronic pain condition, fibromyalgia and was one of the first patients in the UK to receive a prescription for medical cannabis, has seen her costs fall to just £1.60 a day.

She commented: “The cost of treatment has changed considerably in  the last year. My first prescription was £11.63 per day, now I pay £80 for a 30ml bottle of oil , which at my current dose equates to £1.60 a day. If patients are made aware of these significant improvements, prescribed medicinal cannabis may now be a feasible option for  them too.” 

With organisations such as Sapphire Medical Clinic and Drug Science’s Project Twenty21 beginning to offer more affordable options for its patients, experts expect that the cost of medical cannabis will continue to fall in 2021.

But this is still no substitute for NHS access, argues Professor Mike Barnes, chair of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society.

“Costs will continue to drop next year, but what is affordable? Project Twenty21’s price of £150 per month is reasonable for most, but not all people. We need the NHS to start prescribing as they can and should,” he said.

Prof Barnes calls the lack of NHS prescriptions for medical cannabis “disgraceful” and believes more needs to be done by the health service to allow people on lower incomes to access treatment and prevent people from turning to the illicit cannabis market.

He continued: “Around 1.4 million people use cannabis as medicine every day. Make it available on the NHS and that money is taken out of the hands of criminals. That is the overriding need right now.”

Hughes agrees that the NHS should be making a stronger effort to improve access to free medical cannabis prescriptions. She says implementing drugs funds would be an “ideal pathway” for increasing the amount of evidence surrounding the safety and efficacy of cannabis medicines.

Hughes said: “If patients were able to access cannabis medications through the NHS, many could have the opportunity to start work, and more importantly have a better quality of life, without the stress of finding hundreds of pounds they simply don’t have.”


Cannabis Health is a journalist-led news site. Any views expressed by interviewees or commentators do not reflect our own. All content on this site is intended for educational purposes, please seek professional medical advice if you are concerned about any of the issues raised.

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