The UK’s medical cannabis market is set to become the second largest in Europe this year, as has long been predicted by analysts.
It comes as the European medical cannabis industry is forecast to hit sales of €550m by the end of 2023 as the market and its global supply chain continue the trend of diversification seen throughout 2022.
According to the latest data from Prohibition Partners’ European Cannabis Report: Eighth Edition, Germany and the UK are receiving the ‘overwhelming majority’ of new supply and are driving growth across the continent.
The UK’s medical cannabis industry has seen a ‘massive increase’ in size each year since 2019 – growth that, unlike other markets, has not been significantly impacted by external economic woes.
In response to a request from Prohibition Partners, the NHS Business Services Authority released figures, which paint a clear picture of the levels of growth in unlicensed medical cannabis items being prescribed throughout the market.
According to the report, which conservatively assumes that all quarters are equal, the total number of unlicensed products sold in 2022 was around 76,000, representing a 90% increase year-on-year.
One item here refers to a single product on a prescription, e.g. if a patient is prescribed three packages of Tilray 25:1 oil and one of Noidecs 20:1, these would register as just two items.
As of February 2023, there are approximately 90 products on the market in the UK including both flower and extracts.
The average price per gram of flower as of August 2022 was €11.4, while extract oils stood at €7.1 per millilitre.
While there are still only a handful of patients who are able to access medical cannabis through the NHS, the UK’s growth is being driven by a ‘proliferation of clinics that are offering private consultations and prescriptions’.
These private clinics are predominantly dedicated medical cannabis clinics, though some were pre-existing medical clinics which now also offer medical cannabis treatment, but all are either online only or offer some form of online service.
In the UK, doctors hold a uniquely significant position in the medical cannabis market when it comes to imports. To import medical cannabis products in bulk, an importer must obtain a letter of ‘anticipated demand’ from a prescribing doctor, which costs around £1,000.
This letter specifies the required quantities of named products for the doctor’s prescription purposes over the following months. The importer can import only the exact quantity of each product named in the letter, and each letter can be used only once.
As only specialist doctors are able to initiate medical cannabis treatment, the pool of doctors able to produce these letters is extremely limited at reportedly just over 100.
This unique dynamic means that the relationships between clinics, their doctors, and the country’s importers and distributors is more crucial than in any other European market.
Subsequently, for medical cannabis businesses to secure a significant share of the UK’s market, they must control or be part of an ‘interwoven network’ consisting of clinics, doctors, pharmacies, importers and distributors.
Currently, three such networks cover around 60% of the total market, despite around 20 clinics being active in the UK.
These include Lyphe Group, which owns the largest pharmacy and clinic in the UK; Curaleaf network, which owns importer Rokshaw and manufactures its own products; and IPS Pharma/Grow Pharma, which operates Cannabis Access Clinics, My Access Clinic and Integro Clinic.
Availability of products in the UK remains inconsistent, largely due to the continually difficult and bureaucratic system of importation.
Of the 202 items currently listed in the UK’s product database, which tracks medical cannabis in the UK, just 88 were listed as currently available to patients.
The price of products was also given in the UK database, which is even more crucial for UK patients than it is in most medical cannabis markets, as there is no medical insurance coverage for medical cannabis products.
Price per millilitre of currently available extract fell between €2 and €12 per millilitre (with the exception of one Bedrocan high CBD oil product), with most being between €4 and €6 per millilitre. Prices for flower products meanwhile were all in the range of €6 to €14 per gram, with most products costing between €8.40 and €9.60 per gram.