ResearchStatistic series: Google search trends for medical cannabis in the UK

Statistic series: Google search trends for medical cannabis in the UK

8 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Google trends study for medical cannabis uk


In today’s modern world, when people want to know something, often the first thing they do is turn to Google, and so, the internet can act as a mirror and reflect what society is interested in.

We wanted to take a deeper look into this metaphorical mirror, and find out what people were most curious about when it comes to medical cannabis. We analysed where these searches came from, when they were searched for, and how popular they were, using data provided by Google Trends, to find five fascinating facts. 

Google Trends is an impressive tool that analyses internet searches from all over the world, calculating a popularity score for each term. The scores calculated represent how popular this term was in relation to all other searches from the area during a specific timeframe, rating them on a scale from 0 (not enough data) to 100 (peak popularity).

We used these relative popularity scores to investigate internet trends across the UK, and this data shows that searches for medical cannabis are averaging at an all-time high in the UK – even higher than during its legalisation phase in 2018. 

England’s interest in medical cannabis has almost doubled in the last year

Over the course of the last year, the term ‘medical cannabis’ has almost doubled in popularity ratings across England. According to Google Trends, over the last 52 weeks, ‘medical cannabis’ achieved its peak popularity (scored at 100) in September 2023. In the first week of the data set, during September 2022, the phrase was half as popular, rated at 51 out of 100. 

The data also shows medical cannabis scored its lowest relative popularity rating in England during February 2022, suggesting that it was searched for the least, in relation to other terms, during this month. On average, its popularity as a search term in September 2023 was 300% higher than the data recorded for February, which implies a drastic increase in interest or demand over the last seven months.

This one year snapshot shows that over the last year there has been a significant, but gradual increase in searches for medical cannabis in England, peaking in popularity in September 2023. This suggests that England is becoming more intrigued by medical cannabis and its popularity in respect to search terms is growing. 

In the UK, the search term ‘medical cannabis’ was used 19% more in the last year, than it was 5 years ago, when medical cannabis was first legalised

In the UK, search demand for medical cannabis first spiked to reach its peak popularity score of 100 during July 2018 – presumably due to its looming legalisation. However, its annual average rank for that year was only 35.75. In the last year, the average score for medical cannabis searches in the UK was 42, which indicates a relative increase of 19.33% over the last five years.

This data suggests that the UK is more interested in medical cannabis now than it was during the build up to its legalisation, or when this law came into effect. Although a surge in interest when medical cannabis was first legalised was to be expected, it appears interest has continued to rise. 

Analysing this data even further shows this trend of increased interest has actually been building over the last decade. The annual average relative popularity score for ‘medical cannabis’ between 2013 and 2014 was 15.58, ten years later between 2022 and 2023 this figure had grown by 170% to 42.16. 

Across all 4 nations in the UK, medical cannabis was seen to be searched for most frequently at around 3am. 

To get a more accurate depiction of medical cannabis searches, we also captured a week's worth of data to analyse the time stamps. Between the 16th and the 22nd of September 2023, medical cannabis was most frequently searched for at around 3am in the UK.

This data showed, in general, ‘medical cannabis’ tends to reach its peak popularity score for the day between 1am and 5am in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, suggesting that the majority of these searches occur overnight or in the early hours. During a week's worth of data there were only two exceptions to this trend, which happened on the 17th – peaking at 3pm in Wales, and then again two days later in Northern Ireland – interestingly at the same time.

It is unclear exactly what is causing this spike or surge in interest in medical cannabis during the small hours. However, experiencing disturbed sleep or insomnia is not uncommon for many people living with chronic health conditions. It is plausible that people experiencing these symptoms may be searching for a new treatment or therapeutic option at the time it is bothering them most, as opposed to during the day. 

In England over the last 10 weeks, searches for ‘Medical Cannabis Clinic’ were 197% more popular than they were in the first ten weeks of the year. 

According to data from Google Trends, the demand for medical cannabis clinics in England is now almost 200% higher than it was at the start of the year. This search term achieved a collective popularity score of 200 during the first ten weeks of the year, but, over the last ten weeks, this term has achieved a collective popularity rating of 594, displaying a comparative growth of 197%

From the 1st of January to the week ending on the 18th of March 2023, ‘medical cannabis clinic’ received a weekly average popularity score of 20, whilst between the 9th of July and 16th of September, the score was 59. 

These figures come from comparing two ten week snapshots of data, but when comparing the last six months to the six months before that, it can be seen that this demand has gradually increased over the course of the year. Comparing six months of data from September 2023 to March 2023, with data from the next six months (March to September), relative search popularity for medical cannabis clinics has increased by an average of 44%. 

In September 2023, data shows THC was searched for 54% more than CBD was in the UK.

Although CBD was seen to take the internet by storm a number of years ago, recently, it appears this cannabinoid has started to edge into the shadows, eclipsed by interest in its psychoactive counterpart: THC.

When comparing the last six months of data to the previous six months, interest in CBD appears to have remained relatively stable in the UK, whilst the demand for THC based content has steadily increased. In the final week of this dataset, THC was deemed 54% more popular than CBD in the UK by Google Trends.

Although overall, the CBD boom appears to have been replaced with a THC one in the UK, England was the only individual nation with a higher relative popularity score for the term THC than for CBD. In Northern Ireland, both CBD and THC received a peak popularity score of 100 between 2022-2023, representing a constant and significant interest in cannabinoids amongst internet users in NI. 

Closing Considerations

Our exploration into the online world of internet searches revealed some intriguing findings, and although it is important to remember this data is relative to all other searches, the UK is clearly becoming more curious about medical cannabis.

As well as interest in medical cannabis continuing to grow post legalisation, slight changes in related search terms like THC and CBD show how interests can adapt over time as societies’ attitudes or curiosity changes. Overall, this data shows that, especially in the last year, there has been an astounding surge in interest in medical cannabis across the UK. Interest in England appears to have boomed the most, with search popularity for ‘medical cannabis’ almost doubling in the last year – suggesting a profound shift in societal perceptions, intrigue, and curiosity in medical cannabis. 

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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