The number of users that consume cannabis for therapeutic reasons in UK could be as high as one million

  • Although the regulatory wave seems to be spreading throughout old Europe, the United Kingdom remains one of the countries with the most restrictive policy on cannabis.
  • However, despite harsh prohibitionist measures, there are ill people in this country who choose to break the law and get the marijuana they need to treat their illness.

Dr. Caro Gorden, a senior lecturer in Criminology at Wrexham Glyndwr University in the UK, and her team have sought to investigate the implications of this practice with a study that will focus on the experience and perspectives of cannabis users for medicinal purposes. The objective is to investigate the issues these patients face in terms of health benefits, but also how the framework of illegality affects them: How do they get the product? What are the sanitary guarantees of the cannabis acquired on the black market? How does British society perceive the use of medical cannabis? We wanted to know a little more about this interesting project interviewing its main advocate, Dr. Gorden who is currently looking for users interested in participating in the study.

Did you have problems to obtain the approval from the University board to work on this study?

No. This was a straight-forward research ethics application.

How did the idea of this study come to your mind?

There has been very little research to date on the experiences and perspectives of those individuals using cannabis illegally for medicinal purposes. There appear to be two relevant studies: Page and Verhoef's (2006) Medicinal marijuana use: experiences of people with multiple sclerosis. Can Fam Physician Jan; and Bottorff et al.'s, (2013) Perceptions of cannabis as a stigmatised medicine: a qualitative descriptive study. The users interviewed for the studies described the benefits as well as the stigma attached to using marijuana for medicinal purposes. Given the dearth of research that explores users' experiences, we want to examine the benefits and drawbacks of using marijuana for medicinal purposes and the research aims to explore the respondents' social and legal concerns surrounding their consumption of a Class B drug.

Additionally, despite the recent recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Drug Policy Reform to legalise marijuana for medicinal purposes in the UK, there are no plans to legalise the substance and it therefore seems likely that this substance will remain classified as a Class B drug, which means it is legally identified as having no medicinal value. Despite this, it is evident that individuals will continue to use the substance illegally for medicinal purposes. In fact, according to the campaign group End our Pain, this figure could be as high as one million. This research will help to expand on knowledge in this important area that is becoming an increasingly significant political topic. It will be beneficial to the disciplines of Criminal Justice and Medical Sociology to understand patterns of illegal use, ease of acquisition, disclosure to others, perceptions of self and indeed how participants compare medicinal cannabis to other traditional forms of therapy.

Aims and Objectives:

  • To explore the views of medicinal cannabis users about the perceived benefits and/or drawbacks of marijuana for their health condition;
  • To examine modus operandi (patterns of cannabis usage and mode of delivery) among medicinal cannabis users.
  • To examine the experiences and perspectives of the interview sample about the perceived benefits and/or drawbacks to using cannabis for medicinal purposes compared to legally prescribed medicines;
  • To explore how, if at all, the legal status of cannabis effects users in terms of, for example: inclination to use, ease of acquisition, disclosure to others, perceptions of self.

UK is a country where the regulation against cannabis is specially restricting. Why do you think is that? Do you think that the progressive legalizations that we are witnessing in some USA states or even in Canada are going to change eventually this position?

Professor David Nutt, the former Government's chief drugs advisor, argued that cannabis has been a medicine for more than 4,000 years and in the UK was in the pharmacopoeia until 1971 when the USA "forced" its removal as part of the war on drugs (The Guardian, 13th September 2016). Since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan promoted the 'war on drugs' in the 1980s, the model of prohibition in the UK remains (Taylor et al. 2016). Indeed, we are witnessing other models of decriminalisation and regulation in other countries such as Canada and in approximately 24 states in the USA. However, in the UK we do not have devolved legislation and so the consumption of marijuana for medicinal reasons remains illegal here. In the context of political Conservatism, the Government promotes drugs as a criminal justice problem rather than a health one.

Which is the British society perception towards cannabis therapeutic consumers?

Despite the fact that recreational drug use is illegal in the UK, the use of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes rarely results in prosecution. Despite the APPG's recommendations, the Home Office responded stating that there would be no plans to legalise the 'harmful drug' (Roberts, 13th September 2016, BBC News Online). Thus, it seems likely that cannabis will remain classified as a Class B drug, with possession carrying a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment or an unlimited fine. Supplying and producing cannabis carries a maximum of 14 years imprisonment. Additionally, under the 2001 Regulations of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, cannabis will remain classified within Schedule 1, which means it is considered to have little or no therapeutic value and therefore is under restricted control (Drugwise 2016).

Are you having problems to find users willing to participate in the study? If someone is interested on taking part on it, what does she/he have to do to be part of the research?

If someone is interested in taking part in the study, we would like to arrange an informal interview. This could be done in the manner of their choice - i.e. face-to-face, via the telephone or with the use of Skype/Facetime/Messenger etc. Their identity will remain anonymous throughout. If someone would like some more information, then please contact the Principal Investigator, Caro Gorden on 01978 293027 or by email,

We want to ask them how cannabis may benefit you, as well as exploring some of the concerns they may encounter associated with using marijuana for medicinal reasons. Taking part in this study may help us gain more understanding of this subject.

You can also find out more information about us and our research and teaching interests at here.

As an expert in Criminology, which one is your position on the cannabis legalization issue? Do you think that there is actually a close relation between cannabis consume and marginality?

We have personal rather than professional positions on this matter. Given that marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the UK, the degree to which such consumers become marginalised is questionable. Marginalisation is linked more closely to the illegal status of marijuana rather than the product itself.

One of the main arguments of the defenders of the drugs legalization is that it will end with the black market and consequently with the crimes associated. What could you tell us about this? 

This is not the focus of our study. Rather, this is an exploratory study whereby we aim to examine the experiences of those individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes and how its current illegal status may or may not affect them in a variety of ways.

Which is the situation of cannabis therapeutic users nowadays in UK? Can they go to prison for consuming cannabis for therapeutic reasons? 

Technically, yes because possession of a Class B drug carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. However, in reality this is highly unlikely to be the case.


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