There has been a sharp rise in the number of people illicitly obtaining cannabis on the black market to manage medical conditions, a new report has revealed.
Almost 1.8m people in the UK with diagnosed medical conditions ranging from anxiety disorders to chronic pain are turning to illegally obtained cannabis to manage their illnesses.
In 2019, a comparable report showed the figure to be around 1.4m, indicating a rise of around 400,000 since the start of the Covid pandemic.
A separate survey completed by more than 1,300 patients at Sapphire Clinics who are now receiving legally prescribed cannabis medicines showed three-quarters, 74%, had previously turned to the illicit market.
Those who bought cannabis illegally in the past have now shared the lengths they previously went to in order to obtain it.
The research, carried out in a Sapphire Clincis YouGov poll, showed that approximately 1,771,000 people are using cannabis products which have been obtained illegally to treat a diagnosed illness.
In light of the survey findings, many have shared their experiences of trying to obtain cannabis illegally.
One person who bought and grew cannabis said they were “always on the edge from the police” while another told how they were “scammed” £230 while trying to find a dealer online.
One user who responded to the survey said: “I got stripped naked in the police station for having cannabis in my car, I had to squat down naked while three officers watched me, it left me feeling humiliated and made me paranoid about getting cannabis.”
Another said: “Once when I sourced cannabis off the dark web it was laced with spice (synthetic cannabis) and it broke me mentally, the effect was so intense that it actually caused more damage to my body and mental health then I think anything else ever could.”
One Scot from North Kessock in Inverness has told how she feared being arrested before being able to obtain cannabis legally to help with her health problems.
Having been diagnosed with diabetes at a young age, Victoria told how she had her lower leg amputated as a result of peripheral vascular disease.
Victoria, who lives with her partner and 10-year-old son, suffers from phantom pains and was taking opioids. However, this wasn’t managing the pain and she was using her wheelchair.
She has used cannabis on the black market for many years – but when she realised it had been legalised she asked her vascular consultant for a referral.
Her GP and consultant were very supportive of medical cannabis and arranged for her to receive a prescription.
She said: “I’ve got my life back – I can be mum again, a partner – I’m able to relax, be active, do to the gardening. Getting a prescription legally gives me piece of mind – I’m not worried that I’m going to be arrested.”
The study indicated that many people had a lack of awareness and perceived difficulty accessing legal cannabis products.
Around a quarter, 24%, were unaware that cannabis could be legally prescribed while two-fifths, 41%, were under the impression it would be too difficult to access.
Experts warn that illegally sourced cannabis poses risk to a mental and physical health and there are no safeguards to ensure that it is manufactured to be safe for human consumption.
It also puts individuals at risk by engaging in criminal activity.
Prescription medical cannabis is manufactured to a pharmaceutical standard like any other medication to ensure safety and consistency of supply and dispensed from a pharmacy.
Studies from the UK Medical Cannabis Registry have shown that over 80% of patients have not experienced an adverse event since commencing medical cannabis.
Dr Simon Erridge, head of research and access at Sapphire Medical Clinics, said: “It is really important that we raise awareness that medical cannabis can be prescribed by specialist physicians in the UK.
“Medical cannabis in the UK must conform to regulated guidance minimising the harm that individuals could be exposed to through accessing cannabis through an illicit market. At Sapphire Medical Clinics we were the first clinic to be approved by regulatory bodies and have been working hard to provide a safe and reliable service in the UK since 2019.”