Approximately 1.4m British people are using “street cannabis” to treat medically-diagnosed chronic health conditions, a poll has found.
Previous research estimated between 50,000 and 1.1m people in the UK regularly use cannabis bought illegally as a form of medicinal treatment.
However, according to a new study of the “largest ever polling sample”, a greater number than estimated are purchasing cannabis outside of the law as a means of treating chronic health issues.
A national survey of more than 10,000 people conducted by YouGov for the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) and the Cannabis Advocacy and Support Services (CPASS) concluded that around 2.8 per cent of Britain’s adult population use street-available cannabis to treat medical problems.
According to the study’s findings, more than half of the adults using street-bought cannabis to treat chronic health conditions said they do so on a daily basis and just under a quarter said they do so on a weekly basis.
Nine per cent of the respondents said they spend nothing on cannabis, suggesting they grow their own supply.
Meanwhile, 44 per cent said they spend up to £99 a month on cannabis, while just over a fifth said they spend between £100 and £199 on cannabis every month.
Dr Daniel Couch, medical lead at the CMC, said that “robust clinical evidence” is needed to “evaluate the safety and efficacy of cannabinoid medicines”.
“For the first time we have reliable, representative data regarding the number of people in Britain using cannabis as a medicine,” Dr Couch said.
“The findings are astounding and present a national challenge.”
Ann Keen, chair of the CPASS and fellow of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said: “[The statistics] demonstrate the vast number of patients in the UK with chronic and debilitating diagnosed conditions who feel they have no choice but to expose themselves to all the risks of accessing a medicine that works from the criminal market”.
Ms Keen added that “safe” solutions “must be explored as soon as possible”.
It was recently reported that two cannabis-derived medicines have been approved for use on the NHS for the first time.
The approved medicines will be used to help treat severe forms of childhood epilepsy and complications from multiple sclerosis.
Following the release of its poll, the CMC is due to outline new proposals for how the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) can better assess cannabis-based medicinal products over the next five to 10 years.
More than 80 per cent of the respondents of the survey were from England, although the findings represent adults in the general population living in England, Wales and Scotland.