Stephen Murphy – Group Managing Director
The UK Cannabis Report provides context and insight into how, despite the market progressing at a slower pace than expected, opportunities in the UK cannabis sector remain promising.
The report also makes a number of key predictions regarding the future of the UK cannabis market. The patient access issues, which have slowed the progress of the market thus far, will ease, the report anticipates, as the country begins to increase bulk imports of medical cannabis and makes more resources available for cannabis researchers and the education of medical professionals on cannabis.
In November 2018, the United Kingdom introduced new regulations defining and legalising the use of ‘cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans’ (CBPMHs). Products meeting this definition would be moved to Schedule 2 under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 and the Misuse of Drugs (Designation) Order 2015, thereby allowing these cannabis-based products to be made available on prescription from certain qualified doctors.
As the report explains, there is currently no government policy pertaining to the conditions that these products can be prescribed for; in theory, this leaves doctors the freedom to use their professional judgement to prescribe CBPMHs. In practice, this lack of guidance, coupled with a paucity of cannabis education for doctors, has meant that doctors are more likely to simply follow the narrow guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on cannabis-based medicinal products.
The laws governing CBD products are also somewhat vague. On hemp, the regulations are clear: hemp with THC levels of below 0.2% can be grown legally, though farmers are only allowed to use the fibre and seed for commercial purposes. In contrast, there is a large amount of confusion over the allowable THC limits in hemp-derived CBD products.
Additionally, as an EU member state the UK is required to regard food, drink, and food supplement products that contain CBD as ‘novel foods’, and follow the relevant EU regulations that require these products to be licensed. In actuality, these rules are very lightly enforced in the UK, resulting in these products being sold openly in mainstream high-street stores. It is uncertain what will happen to the UK edibles market at such a time as the UK exits the European Union.
In the year following medicinal cannabis legalisation, just 18 prescriptions for CBPMHs were issued through the National Health Service (NHS) in England, with a further 135 issued via private medical cannabis clinics set up in the UK. Exact figures from the rest of the UK have not been made public.
Medical legalisation, the report states, is not yet supported by provisions for patient access.
In the short term, UK clinicians are predominantly focusing on CBPMHs as a treatment for five conditions: multiple sclerosis; chemotherapy-induced nausea; treatment-resistant childhood epilepsy; chronic pain; and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS. In other geographies, a much wider range of conditions are commonly treated with medical cannabis.
Data from the British Medical Journal on patient numbers for 52 conditions deemed potentially treatable with medical cannabis indicates a potential patient base of over 4 million people. Prohibition Partners estimates that up to 1% of the UK population could be medical cannabis patients by 2028, as British clinical trials advance and UK clinicians become more informed on medicinal cannabis.
Poised for Growth
While the medicinal cannabis market has grown very slowly over the past year, Prohibition Partners anticipates a significant increase in accessibility for patients over the course of 2020, leading to a period of exponential growth over the coming few years.
By 2024, the UK medicinal cannabis market is predicted to be worth nearly US$1.3 billion, servicing nearly 340,000 active patients.
The total UK legal cannabis market is expected to balloon from an estimated market worth of US$190,000 in 2019, to US$3 billion in 2024. Working from an estimated recreational legalisation date of mid-2021, the value of the legal recreational cannabis market by the year 2024 will be approximately US$1.7 billion, with nearly three-quarters of a million people being regular recreational cannabis customers.
The cannabis investment sector that is gaining traction in Europe is also turning its attention towards the UK market, the report notes. Numerous consultancies, market research and cannabis-focused finance groups have opened up in London – the city also playing host to the annual Cannabis Europa conference.
Major cannabis companies are also having success in the UK. GW Pharmaceuticals, the largest exporter of legal medical cannabis in the world, is headquartered in England, and operates numerous sites across the south of the country. Joining them are numerous foreign cannabis industry giants, such as Australia’s Althea Inc. and Canada’s Aurora Cannabis, which have recently put down roots in the UK through the establishment of subsidiaries in order to secure competitive footholds in a UK market that is primed for expansion.
To learn more about the current state of the UK cannabis market, and its future potential, download the full free-to-access report: The UK Cannabis Report.