The demand for cannabis as a medical treatment is growing rapidly, and the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) predicts that by 2024, the UK medical cannabis market alone will be worth close to £1bn ($1.3bn) and servicing nearly 340,000 active patients. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Changes to UK legislation saw cannabis being legalised for medical use in November 2018. This is based on case studies showing that cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are extremely effective at treating many physical, emotional and mental conditions, without the side effects of pharmaceuticals.
Admittedly there are still some challenges to be addressed before cannabis becomes widely available. These include issues of quality, consistency and access, as well as convincing a somewhat resistant medical establishment to endorse, fund and prescribe it as a treatment.
Gathering clinical evidence to prove the effectiveness of Cannabis-Based Products for Medicinal Use (CBPMs) is critical here.
Moving away from the black market
There are several projects in development for trialling CBPMs, including one by the NHS in 2021, which will study their effects on up to 20,000 patients.
These will go a long way towards providing the evidence needed to convince the medical establishment, in turn creating a much greater demand for cannabis products.
According to The UK Cannabis Report published by Prohibition Partners in December 2019, although only a couple of hundred legal prescriptions have been written so far, roughly 1.4 million people in the UK are currently using black-market cannabis to treat chronic health conditions, as access and price issues are resolved, many of these will switch to high-quality medical cannabis.
Another fast growing market includes CBD-based health and wellness products. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound added to many products, currently under fairly strict, although inconsistently applied, laws.
In 2019, CBD product sales figures were higher than those of vitamins C and D combined. And CBD retailers say that those numbers have shot up further during lockdown, with so many people looking for relief from anxiety and stress.
Decriminalising recreational use
Yet another potential area for growth is recreational cannabis. Although this is currently still illegal, it is unlikely to be for much longer.
And its illegality certainly has not stopped the estimated 4.7 million people who have used cannabis in some form just in the past year, resulting in a black-market valued at up to £6bn per year.
While there are valid concerns around safety and addictiveness, the mood-altering effects of products high in THC (which does cause a ‘high’, unlike CBD) and its potential as a gateway drug, legalisation that regulates quality and access would help address these concerns.
To explore these and other related issues, an independent review on drugs and crime is currently underway in the UK. This is also taking into account the experiences of countries such as Canada and Portugal, where cannabis is already legal.
While the debate still rages, many parties believe that recreational legalisation looks likely in the next five to ten years, if not sooner.