Just Published Report: Awareness of medical cannabis regulations among UK police officers – a cross-sectional study – 28.5% Not Aware Medical Cannabis Legal On Prescription

17 May 2024


Cannabis-based products for medicinal use were rescheduled in the UK in November 2018. The primary outcomes of this cross-sectional survey were to assess awareness of legislation governing these products among UK police officers and whether they had received appropriate training. 200 police officers completed the survey, and 57 (28.5%) respondents did not know these products were legal on prescription in the UK. 177 (88.5%) police officers believed they would benefit from more training on them and how to identify legal medical cannabis patients. Education on the legalities of cannabis-based products for medicinal use and why they are prescribed is necessary to improve knowledge among police officers.


In November 2018, the UK moved cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans (CBPMs) to Schedule 2 under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001,1 allowing unlicensed CBPMs to be prescribed. CBPMs may be prescribed only for individuals who have not sufficiently benefited or have been affected by intolerable side effects from licensed therapies for clinical conditions which may be amenable to treatment with CBPMs.1 These medications can only be initiated by a doctor listed on the General Medical Council’s Specialist Register with expertise in the condition for which CBPMs are being prescribed. The decision to prescribe must be confirmed by a multidisciplinary team containing doctors from other specialities.1
There were approximately 32,000 patients treated with CBPMs by the end of 2022 for conditions such as chronic pain, generalised anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.2 Notwithstanding, it is estimated that 50% of the UK public are unaware that CBPMs can be prescribed legally.3 Consequently, whilst the number of patients prescribed CBPMs has continued to rise, these individuals continue to perceive themselves as being subject to stigma.4 In comparison to other groups, UK patients prescribed CBPMs are most concerned about what the police and criminal justice system may think about their medication.4 Stigma has been demonstrated to be both a cause and an exacerbating factor in driving health inequalities.5
Considering limited public awareness of legislation on CBPMs and the potential contribution of lack of police knowledge to perceived stigma among patients,6 this study’s primary aim was to assess the awareness of current legislation among UK police officers. Secondary aims included assessments of how much training was received on the topic and whether members of the police believed they had received sufficient training on CBPMs.


A cross-sectional survey study was conducted between 24 October and 1 November 2022. The survey was designed by a multi-disciplinary team of academic clinicians and a cognitive neuroscientist with expertise in qualitative research.
Participants provided demographic information on sex, age and geographic location. The questionnaire contained the following questions:

Do you believe the following statement regarding cannabis is true or false? “Cannabis containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be fully legal when prescribed by an appropriate healthcare professional.”
Do you feel adequately educated on medical cannabis and the legalities around this prescription medicine?
Do you believe you and your colleagues would benefit from more training on medical cannabis and how to identify patients using legal prescription medical cannabis?
Have you ever encountered anyone, as part of your work, who claimed to be using cannabis containing THC on prescription?
(If yes to question 4) What did you do when encountering someone who claimed to be using cannabis containing THC on prescription?
The questionnaire was distributed to serving police officers in the UK by Opinium Research and weighted to derive a nationally representative sample. Data was analysed in Microsoft® Excel utilising descriptive statistics, except question five which was analysed utilising a thematic approach.


In total, 200 police officers (male n = 109; 54.5%) completed the survey. Ninety-six (48.0%) were between 18–34 years of age, another 96 (48.0%) between 35–54, and 8 (4.0%) were over 55.
Most respondents (n = 143; 71.5%) knew that cannabis is legal on prescription, whilst 42 (21.0%) and 15 (7.5%) participants thought that it was not legal or they were not sure.
Forty-seven (23.5%) participants had never received formal training on this topic, whilst 85 (42.5%) had believed their received training was inadequate. Most police officers (n = 177; 88.5%) said they believed they would benefit from more training on CBPMs, including how to identify recipients of legally prescribed cannabis (Figure 1).
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