You can get a fine or prison sentence if you:
- take drugs
- carry drugs
- make drugs
- sell, deal or share drugs (also called ‘supplying’ them)
The penalties depend on the type of drug or substance, the amount you have, and whether you’re also dealing or producing it.
Types of drugs
The maximum penalties for drug possession, supply (selling, dealing or sharing) and production depend on what type or ‘class’ the drug is.
|Drug||Possession||Supply and production|
|Class A||Crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA ), heroin, LSD , magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth)||Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both||Up to life in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
|Class B||Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, ketamine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (for example mephedrone, methoxetamine)||Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both||Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
|Class C||Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB ), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL ), piperazines (BZP ), khat||Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both (except anabolic steroids – it’s not an offence to possess them for personal use)||Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
|Temporary class drugs*||Some methylphenidate substances (ethylphenidate, 3,4-dichloromethylphenidate (3,4-DCMP), methylnaphthidate (HDMP-28), isopropylphenidate (IPP or IPPD), 4-methylmethylphenidate, ethylnaphthidate, propylphenidate) and their simple derivatives||None, but police can take away a suspected temporary class drug||Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
*The government can ban new drugs for 1 year under a ‘temporary banning order’ while they decide how the drugs should be classified.
Psychoactive substances penalties
Psychoactive substances include things like nitrous oxide (‘laughing gas’).
You can get a fine or prison sentence if you:
- carry a psychoactive substance and you intend to supply it
- make a psychoactive substance
- sell, deal or share a psychoactive substance (also called supplying them)
|Psychoactive substances||Possession||Supply and production|
|Things that cause hallucinations, drowsiness or changes in alertness, perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others||None, unless you’re in prison||Up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both|
Food, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, medicine and the types of drugs listed above do not count as psychoactive substances.
You may be charged with possessing an illegal substance if you’re caught with drugs, whether they’re yours or not.
If you’re under 18, the police are allowed to tell your parent, guardian or carer that you’ve been caught with drugs.
Your penalty will depend on:
- the class and quantity of drug
- where you and the drugs were found
- your personal history (previous crimes, including any previous drug offences)
- other aggravating or mitigating factors
Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £90 if you’re found with cannabis.
Police can issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine of £60 on the first 2 times that you’re found with khat. If you’re found with khat more than twice, you could get a maximum penalty of up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Dealing or supplying drugs
The penalty is likely to be more severe if you are found to be supplying drugs (dealing, selling or sharing).
The police will probably charge you if they suspect you of supplying drugs. The amount of drugs found and whether you have a criminal record will affect your penalty.
Talk to FRANK has help, information and advice about drugs.The penalties if you are caught taking or dealing drugs – drug classification, fines and prison sentences
Cannabis: the facts – Healthy body
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Cannabis (also known as marijuana, weed, pot, dope or grass) is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK.
The effects of cannabis vary from person to person:
- you may feel chilled out, relaxed and happy
- some people get the giggles or become more talkative
- hunger pangs (“the munchies”) are common
- colours may look more intense and music may sound better
- time may feel like it’s slowing down
Cannabis can have other effects too:
- if you’re not used to it, you may feel faint or sick
- it can make you sleepy and lethargic
- it can affect your memory
- it makes some people feel confused, anxious or paranoid, and some experience panic attacks and hallucinations – this is more common with stronger forms of cannabis like skunk or sinsemilla
- it interferes with your ability to drive safely
If you use cannabis regularly, it can make you demotivated and uninterested in other things going on in your life, such as education or work.
Long-term use can affect your ability to learn and concentrate.
Can you get addicted to cannabis?
Research shows that 10% of regular cannabis users become dependent on it. Your risk of getting addicted is higher if you start using it in your teens or use it every day.
As with other addictive drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, you can develop a tolerance to cannabis. This means you need more to get the same effect.
If you stop using it, you may get withdrawal symptoms, such as cravings, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, irritability and restlessness.
If you smoke cannabis with tobacco, you’re likely to get addicted to nicotine and risk getting tobacco-related diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease.
If you cut down or give up, you will experience withdrawal from nicotine as well as cannabis.
Cannabis and mental health
Regular cannabis use increases your risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia. A psychotic illness is one where you have hallucinations (seeing things that are not really there) and delusions (believing things that are not really true).
Your risk of developing a psychotic illness is higher if:
- you start using cannabis at a young age
- you smoke stronger types, such as skunk
- you smoke it regularly
- you use it for a long time
- you smoke cannabis and also have other risk factors for schizophrenia, such as a family history of the illness
Cannabis also increases the risk of a relapse in people who already have schizophrenia, and it can make psychotic symptoms worse.
Other risks of cannabis
Cannabis can be harmful to your lungs
People who smoke cannabis regularly are more likely to have bronchitis (where the lining of your lungs gets irritated and inflamed).
Like tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals, but it’s not clear whether this raises your risk of cancer.
If you mix cannabis with tobacco to smoke it, you risk getting tobacco-related lung diseases, such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
You’re more likely to be injured in a road traffic accident
If you drive while under the influence of cannabis, you’re more likely to be involved in an accident. This is one reason why drug driving, like drink driving, is illegal.
Cannabis may affect your fertility
Research in animals suggests that cannabis can interfere with sperm production in males and ovulation in females.
If you’re pregnant, cannabis may harm your unborn baby
Research suggests that using cannabis regularly during pregnancy could affect your baby’s brain development.
Regularly smoking cannabis with tobacco increases the risk of your baby being born small or premature.
Cannabis increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke
If you smoke it regularly for a long time, cannabis raises your chances of developing these conditions.
Research suggests it’s the cannabis smoke that increases the risk, not the active ingredients in the plant itself.
Does my age affect my risks?
Your risk of harm from cannabis, including the risk of schizophrenia, is higher if you start using it regularly in your teens.
One reason for this is that, during the teenage years, your brain is still growing and forming its connections, and cannabis interferes with this process.
Does cannabis have medicinal benefits?
Cannabis contains active ingredients called cannabinoids. Two of these – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – are the active ingredients of a prescription drug called Sativex. This is used to relieve the pain of muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis.
Another cannabinoid drug, called Nabilone, is sometimes used to relieve sickness in people having chemotherapy for cancer.
Trials are under way to test cannabis-based drugs for other conditions including cancer pain, the eye disease glaucoma, appetite loss in people with HIV or AIDS, and epilepsy in children.
We will not know whether these treatments are effective until the trials have finished.
Trying to give up?
If you need support with giving up cannabis:
- see your GP
- visit Frank’s Find support page
- call Frank’s free drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600
- see Drugs: where to get help
You’ll find more information about cannabis on the Frank website.
Page last reviewed: 31 October 2017
Next review due: 31 October 2020