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Legalising medicinal cannabis has little impact on recreational use, finds UK study

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The change in law to permit the prescribing of cannabis for medicinal purposes has had little impact on recreational use, according to a new study. 

In November 2018 cannabis was rescheduled to allow it to be prescribed for medicinal purposes in the UK, but until now there has been little research on the impact this has had on recreational use.

In an attempt to shine some light on this a team of researchers explored whether people’s attitudes towards cannabis, and their perception of the risks associated with recreational use, changed after the rescheduling. 

The study, published in the journal Drug Science, Policy and Law, analysed data taken from an online survey investigating drug use and nightlife behaviours in just under 2,500 participants aged between 18-34. 

Respondents had to be a resident of the UK and have attended at least six electronic music events in the 12 months leading up to March 2020.

Just over half of the participants identified as male and the majority were either students or in full-time employment. Drug use in the 12-month period was high, with over 70% indicating that they had used cannabis.

Lack of awareness of medicinal cannabis 

Among the sample, awareness of the legality of medicinal cannabis was relatively low. While 90% believed cannabis to be a safe and effective medication for treating some conditions, only half (53%) were aware of the law change. 

“This is potentially lower than might be expected and may indicate that a considerable proportion of people in the UK may be unaware of this policy change,” the authors state.

This has been shown through a number of other private surveys on attitudes among the general public, with findings showing over half the population is either unaware or unsure about the legal status of medicinal cannabis.

Despite this lack of awareness, over 90% were in favour of the introduction of legalised cannabis for medical use and 81% believed it should be available on the NHS.

The majority of participants were also in favour of legalising cannabis for recreational purposes, with most also agreeing that the use of recreational cannabis [accessed illegally] for medical reasons was acceptable and that those who do so should not face legal prosecution. 

How did the law change impact attitudes and use of cannabis?

Almost 90% of participants stated that the law change would have no impact on their use of recreational cannabis, and over three quarters said it would not impact their use of recreational cannabis for medicinal purposes.  

No significant changes in risk perception between responses in 2017 compared to 2020 were identified. Additionally there were no statistical differences in the frequency of cannabis use between those who were aware of the law change and those who were not. 

The authors concluded that the law change was ‘not associated with a decrease in the perception of its risk, or with an increase in recreational use among a sample favourable to its medical provision’. 

They state: “Among the longitudinal sample, cannabis use and attitudes did not appear to be affected, with risk perception, past 12-month use and frequency not differing significantly pre- and post-policy change, irrespective of prior awareness. 

“These findings suggest that the introduction of the provision of medical cannabis in the UK in 2018 had a limited impact on peoples’ intentions to use cannabis, changes in the perception of the risk of recreational use or temporal use patterns.”

Read the full study here 

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Home » News » Legalising medicinal cannabis has little impact on recreational use, finds UK study

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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