Intended for healthcare professionals


Medical cannabis in the UK

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 16 November 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4844
  1. Alex Stevens, professor in criminal justice
  1. University of Kent, Chatham Maritime, Kent, UK

Patients should not be criminalised for seeking benefits

Do patients have the right to medicate themselves, or should they be punished for doing so? Should their doctors work with them to decide on the best treatment, or does the government know best? These questions are at the heart of the current debate on the use of cannabis as medicine.

In the UK, “cannabis based products for medical use in humans” were rescheduled on 1 November 2018. They were placed in schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, alongside several opioid analgesics. In theory, this means they can now be prescribed. In practice, the NHS has warned that “very few people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis,”1 because of the tight restrictions that have been put in place.23456

Patient autonomy versus controlled prescription

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, people face criminal prosecution for possession of schedule 2 substances without a prescription. According to some ethical arguments, this breaches their right to decide autonomously on their wellbeing.7 As patients have the right to refuse treatment under the doctrine of informed consent, they also—it is argued—have the right to decide on …

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