Trying to get a doctor’s appointment can be the stuff of nightmares, so it’s understandable that many of us would prefer to be able to self-diagnose and purchase medication online, then have it delivered to our door. But leaving aside the myriad problems with both self-diagnosis and experimenting with tablets for which we have no understanding of what they might do to our bodies, is it even legal to buy drugs online?

Let’s start by clarifying what we mean by the term ‘drugs’ here. It’s quite easy to pick up a packet of Paracetamol online at Boots or to purchase some diet pills from Amazon. In general, anything you can buy in a shop without being questioned you can legally buy online.

However, as with all medicine you are advised to take caution - you should never gamble with your health. It is possible to overdose on painkillers, and there have been fatalities associated with fat pills. Even vitamins can do you harm when taken in excess.

Just because you can buy something online it does not mean you can - or should - consume it at will. Remember that a doctor can advise whether you are suitable for the medication, monitor your dosage and side effects, and spot any potential clashes with other medication you are taking.

Really, though, we’re talking about the kind of drugs you’d usually have to either visit your doctor or some dodgy chap in a pub to obtain: prescription drugs.

We’re talking about antibiotics, antidepressants, everything from Viagra and the morning-after pill to steroids, PrEP and marijuana. The stuff you know you need but don’t want to ask your doctor for because you’re either embarrassed or can’t afford to take the time out to go see them.

Is it legal to buy prescription drugs online in the UK?

You might be surprised to find you can legally buy many of these drugs online in the UK, and that’s because although their purchase requires a consultation with a doctor, this meeting does not need to be face to face. An online consultation might suffice.

When buying prescription drugs from an online pharmacy in the UK you should always look for one of these logos. The first is a voluntary scheme that offers reassurance that you are purchasing medicine from registered pharmacies that meet GPhC standards; the second is the EU common logo, which is a legal requirement in Europe that applies to all retailers of medicines.

Registered pharmacy logos

It’s worth pointing out that you can buy almost anything on the dark web, but that is highly illegal and buying from untrusted sources is not at all recommended - can you ever be sure what you’re taking? Below we’ll explain the score for some common drugs and whether or not they are available on the world wide web.

Is it legal to buy Cannabis online?

Marijuana or cannabis might seem like an odd inclusion in our list, given that it is a Class B drug and therefore most people will assume not legal to buy in the UK full stop. The situation is confusing, though, because medicinal cannabis (Sativex) is legal to buy with a prescription (but not online); cannabis seeds are also legal to buy (online and offline). If you’re looking for some weed to smoke, that’s not legal.

If you do buy seeds online, be warned that cultivation of cannabis seeds carries a potential 14-year prison term, and that you need a licence from the Home Office to cultivate hemp.

Is it legal to buy the contraceptive pill online?

‘The pill’, as it’s more commonly known, can legally be bought online. However, you will need to complete an online consultation form, which will be approved by an NHS-accredited doctor. If this is rejected you’ll need to go in person to your GP or family planning clinic instead - the latter can also offer it to you free. Lloyds Pharmacy offers this service.

Is it legal to buy the morning-after pill online?

The morning-after pill is legal to buy over the counter at pharmacies, but in order to buy Levonelle online you’ll first need to fill in a consultation form at an online pharmacy such as Lloyds. This is the case with many over-the-counter drugs for which you don’t actually need a full prescription from a doctor.

Is it legal to buy Viagra online?

Viagra is another drug that you might prefer to buy online because you might find the situation embarrassing, but the fact is it can be a dangerous drug for some men who are not suitable. As with the contraceptive- and morning-after pill, it is possible to buy Viagra online but you will need to complete an online consultation first. Superdrug is one such site that offers this service.

Interestingly, from 2018 the UK will be the first country to sell Viagra over the counter, according to pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

Is it legal to buy antibiotics online?

Antibiotics, used to treat infections caused by bacteria, can be bought online from approved sellers such as The Online Clinic. You’ll first need to complete a medical questionnaire that helps them to work out which is the best antibiotic for your needs, and what dosage you require.

Be warned that your application may not be successful if the clinic doesn’t think the requirement is justified. Antibiotics won’t work with all types of infections, and overuse can limit their effectiveness.

Is it legal to buy antidepressants online?

Antidepressants are easily misused, and thus always prescribed and then monitored in use. There are online pharmacies operating outside the UK that offer to import them for you, stating that they are legal to buy online and import for personal use, but we’d always advise speaking to a doctor or mental-health specialist instead.

Indeed, though you can buy the likes of Prozac from Lloyds Pharmacy online, you will need a doctor’s prescription first.

Is it legal to buy steroids online?

Anabolic Steroids are a Class C drug in the UK. You can’t sell them, but you can possess them for personal use. In the UK you can purchase them only with a prescription, and if you want to import them from countries in which a prescription is not required you must do so in person.

Dianabol is one such drug, which you can legally purchase in the UK only with a doctor’s prescription. However, there are plenty of natural steroid alternative supplements that some people actually prefer to Dianabol. If you don’t have a prescription and can’t get one, consider one of these.

Is it legal to buy PrEP online?

PrEP or Truvada (its brand name) is a preventative drug used to protect against HIV, which is for use only by people who are certain they are HIV negative. It’s not available through the NHS in the UK, which means to buy it you need to visit the 56 Dean Street PrEP Clinic in London’s Soho, where you’ll pay £400 for 30 Truvada pills.

If you can’t afford this, generic PrEP pills are also available online. I Want PrEP Now has verified five online retailers for UK buyers: Dynamix International, Pulse Clinic, United Pharmacies, All Day Chemist and InHouse Pharmacy.