Londoners spending £1.45bn a year on illegal cannabis to treat health conditions, study finds

Study finds many with debilitating conditions using drug to self-medicate despite treatment being available on the NHS and in private clinics.

ondoners are spending an estimated £1.45 billion a year on illegal cannabis to self-medicate health conditions such as chronic pain, new figures reveal.

A study by Sapphire Medical Clinics found that one in ten (11 per cent) of people in London with diagnosed medical conditions are being driven to source cannabis illegally – despite the drug being available on the NHS for certain conditions.

Many Britons suffering from chronic pain have already opted to obtain cannabis privately after struggling to get a prescription through the NHS. Only 32,000 people are currently being treated with medicinal cannabis in the UK, though many more are eligible for treatment.

There are just three conditions accepted by the NHS for cannabis prescriptions: muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, nausea caused by cancer-related treatment and severe epilepsy.

Sapphire, a clinic based in Harley Street, surveyed 10,684 adults living in London for the study. Around half (48 per cent) had a diagnosed medical condition.

The average spend per month on illegal cannabis among those who had a health condition was £216.74, which is more expensive than the monthly cost a prescription at most private clinics.

Over a quarter (27 per cent) of respondents were unaware that medical cannabis can be prescribed in the UK for eligible patients, while a third (35 per cent) believed it would be difficult to access.

Doctors in England have been allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis to eligible patients since November 2018. However, the study found that nearly half of Londoners (47 per cent) were unaware of the change in the law.

Patients can be referred to a specialist by their GP, but 81 per cent of people in London with a diagnosed health condition have never discussed medical cannabis as a treatment option with their GP. Treatments using cannabis on the NHS can only be approved by consultants, not family doctors.

There are an estimated 15.5 million people in England living with chronic pain and 3.2 million with anxiety disorders – the two most common conditions for which people in the UK are prescribed medicinal cannabis.

Dr Mikael Sodergren, Co-Founder of Sapphire Medical Clinics, said: “The fact that so many people are unnecessarily putting themselves at risk, when they could be eligible for legal cannabis-medicine on prescription from a specialist, demonstrates the huge lack of awareness in the UK both among patients and the healthcare community.

“We strongly urge the public not to buy cannabis illegally to treat health conditions and to seek medical advice on their eligibility for prescribed medical cannabis.”

Andy Lowe, who has multiple sclerosis, told the Standard last year that medicinal cannabis had helped to treat the pain and spasms caused by his condition. He has a monthly prescription to Mamedica, a firm which provides access to a huge range of different cannabis strains for those who qualify for treatment.

“If I take it in the morning it helps settles my legs down, and I can also go out in public. It’s very discreet and it doesn’t smell, I’m not disturbing anyone,” he said.

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