Health Secretary Matt Hancock has called on the medical profession to allow patients access to cannabis medicines and leading police chiefs say users should not be criminalised.
In March, the Government missed its own deadline to declare how many patients have secured medical cannabis – the number is believed to be little more than a dozen, with these almost exclusively written by private doctors.
Carly Barton, from Brighton, saw her NHS doctor write the first prescription for cannabis but this was unanimously rejected by the Brighton Medical Governance Group due to ‘insufficient evidence’ it would alleviate her chronic pain.
This prescription would have superseded her private one, which was costing in the region of £1,300 a month, and this has subsequently led to the launch of ‘Carly’s Amnesty’ (https://www.carlysamnesty.org/).
Those participating must sign a statement that they are being treated by a specialist clinician, have at least one symptom listed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for cannabis- based medicine, and have been denied access to medical cannabis. They must promise to grow no more than nine plants and must do so in a private place, such as a garage, attic or back garden, and inform their local police.
Ms Barton said: “I am going to openly break the law until I can access my medicine or they give me some kind of exemption…(but) I do not see myself as a criminal.”
Meanwhile, also in April, the National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman on drugs, Cleveland Police’s assistant chief constable Jason Harwin, said forces should make their own decisions on prosecuting cannabis users.
He said: “There is strong evidence to suggest that recommending minor offenders for early intervention treatment instead of pursuing convictions can prevent re-offending and result in the best outcome for both the user and the criminal justice system. It is a matter for chief constables, in liaison with their police and crime commissioners, to determine operational priorities.” He said that chief constables would continue to pursue the ‘drug gangsters’.
Possession of a Class B drug, such as cannabis, can lead to a five-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine. Growing or dealing cannabis can bring 14 years’ jail. Health Secretary Matt Hancock waded into the debate telling the House of Commons:
“We changed the law to make sure medicinal cannabis is available on a mainstream basis. When that’s the case we need clinical sign off. The problem is that clinical sign off has not been forthcoming. That’s a source of immense frustration to me as I hope you can imagine, and that is what we are trying to resolve.”
His intervention followed the case of Teagan Appleby, nine, whose cannabis medication was seized by the Border Force at Southend Airport on her return from Holland. Mum, Emma Appleby, later secured the release of the medication; Teagan has a rare chromosomal disorder and suffers from around 300 seizures a day.
I’m risking my career to end my daily agony
High flying lawyer Andy struggled for years to hide his daily battle with chronic pain from his clients. Then he broke the law, self-medicating with street cannabis and everything changed, as he explains here.
Pain is part of my everyday life. I say pain, as that’s what my condition is, apparently, ‘chronic pain’. But in reality, it’s agony.
Every minute of every day is spent wishing I could do even the most basic of tasks – getting in and out of a chair, walking up the stairs, even going to the toilet – without it making every sinew in my body object to my attempts at movement.
You probably think from reading this, ‘well that’s what happens to old people’. That may be so, and had I been 50 years older than I am, then I would probably accept that this is my lot.
But I am 32. Supposedly in the prime of my life, but even getting out of bed in the morning is the first massive challenge of the day. And the downward spiral begins there. Brushing my teeth, getting dressed, getting in the car – to be truthful, sometimes by the time I get to work, I’m pretty weary already.
My career in professional services is very busy and usually pretty stressful. It involves seeing clients during a packed day of meetings, advising them on what can often be life-changing matters and poring over the finer details of paperwork often until most people have gone to bed.
As a young professional, this is what I’ve always wanted. But against a backdrop of non-stop pain, it feels like I’m fighting a battle all day every day, just to do my job.
I’ve had this pain since my mid-20s. At first it was just a bit of aching here and there, which for someone with a very desk-based job isn’t uncommon, I suppose.
I tried doing more exercise, but that made things much worse. After a few days had passed and the aching hadn’t worn off, I started to think something wasn’t right. Someone young, in good health, shouldn’t be in this much pain having done nothing more than their daily routine.
A couple of weeks later, I visited my doctor. Seven years or so later, I’ve come to know my doctor rather well.
I tried painkillers, relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy, you name it. Nothing seemed to work. Backwards and forwards I went to the doctor over the years, hoping one of the varieties of medication would make some difference.
It was while researching pain relief during an online search that I stumbled across cannabis. I discovered that since November 2018, it had been legal for medicinal purposes, which initially made me think there was some light at the end of the tunnel, although I did question why my doctor had never volunteered this information. I’d certainly been a few times since it was legalised.
I made an appointment in light of my new discovery of medicinal cannabis and discussed my findings with my doctor. I’ll never forget her reaction.
Once the stunned look had subsided, she said ‘I don’t think we need to go down that route’ and turned away as she wrote out a prescription for yet more pills (I’d had so many bloody pills over the years, I imagine I’m immune to them by now).
Thoroughly disillusioned by my experience, and actually quite troubled as to why I had been refused something that is a legal medicine, I decided to take the law into my own hands. I am being denied something perfectly legal, so I’m going to find my own means of getting it.
Perhaps this was not the best course of action, and I appreciated this from the outset. When you’ve lived for so long in so much pain and you come so close to finding something that could help, however, you don’t let ‘no’ get in your way.
‘Black market’ cannabis is of course illegal but in my mind I was within my moral rights as I was being denied it in a more acceptable way.
Being given cannabis in a suspicious-looking little bag by a local teenager who you’ve come across smoking weed outside of the local off licence isn’t exactly what I’d imagined ever doing, but for me, it’s a case of needs must.
The first time I smoked some, I felt really disappointed. The effect was not instant, and I lay there, illegal cigarette in hand, thinking the police were about to show up at my door. I’d lose my career, my reputation, everything I’d worked for, all for nothing. I went to sleep that night pretty gutted.
The next morning, however, I noticed a change. I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom and I could move. I got dressed without feeling like a 95-year-old struggling on without their carer.
This was amazing. Unbelievable, in fact. I wasn’t quite sure whether to relate the cannabis from the previous night with how I felt that morning, but that was the only change to my routine. Nothing else could explain it.
The pain did come back throughout the day, but I smoked some more that night and the effect the next morning was the same. To me, this seemed like a miracle. An illegal one, perhaps, but nevertheless, this was what I had waited years for.
Now, smoking cannabis is a regular thing for me. I continue to get it from my unlikely friend from outside the off licence, and while I’m conscious and aware of the risks of using such cannabis, as long as it works, I’m not going to question it further.
For me, it’s a shame that I have been forced to have this as my dirty little secret. I have kept my chronic pain secret from colleagues and clients for years, even though I realise there’s no shame in it, but this one about my drug use is something they would really take exception to.
I’m good at what I do and I do a great job for my clients, and I don’t want anything to taint that. Being prescribed cannabis would be the way forward for me, as then there’s nothing grubby about it, but until opinions change that isn’t going to happen.
Even my own doctor, who has come to know me and my situation, rejected the very suggestion of me trying cannabis.
How can that be right? Smoking cannabis in my flat, hoping the neighbours don’t smell it or suspect, is of course a concern, but thankfully they’re all busy professionals like myself, so I’m sure they’ve got more pressing things to worry about.
Cannabis has, in all honesty, changed my life. It’s changed my outlook on life too. To be able to get up in the morning and think ‘I might be able to get through a decent chunk of the day without excruciating pain’ is a motivation in itself.
The best suits have come back out of the wardrobe. The appalling chat-up lines have resurfaced for when I’m out on the town. I am the person I want to be, rather than the one who lives only for the office and the home office, struggling to get between both.
I look forward to the day when being prescribed cannabis becomes a genuine option for people with chronic conditions like mine.
Until then, I only hope I manage to continue to buy and use it under the radar, as the consequences would be pretty dire, which I think is deeply unfair.
Andy is 32-year-old lawyer working in England. His name has been changed to protect his identity.
The problem with prescribing
The Primary Care Cannabis Network on the issues facing GPs in prescribing medical cannabis.
Earlier this month, changes to legislation in import regulations were made – enabling medical cannabis patients to receive their prescription within days, not weeks or months.
Up until now, legal restrictions have meant patients have been waiting often several weeks or months at a time to receive their medication, which has been causing unnecessary breaks in treatment regimes, resulting in pain or symptoms of complex needs such as severe epilepsy making more occurrences and disrupting everyday life.
However, the problem still lies in prescribing.
GPs are still unable to prescribe medical cannabis to their patients; partially due to guidelines restricting access to only specialist doctors, but also because many GPs don’t want to register as prescribers. Many UK GPs feel as though there is a lack of funding and guidance – which is true, but only to a certain degree.
Dr Leon Barron, founder of The Primary Care Cannabis Network, said at the Hemp and CBD Expo earlier this month that: “GPs are seen as gate-keepers; we liaise with specialists, engage with them and so on, but we have a limited toolbox – we can’t prescribe medical cannabis yet.”
Which is odd, as GPs are the ones who have a closer relationship with patients, we can make regular adjustments to prescriptions and can issue repeat prescriptions.
We also must consider that cannabis scripts are unlicensed; however it is worth noting that there are many medications which are unlicensed and are heavily prescribed – such as many pediatric drugs. Many have also not been through various control measures, but are still licensed.”
We can see then, why there are so many hesitations for GPs and the Government, when there seems to be so many cross-hairs into the process of prescribing.
Unfortunately, we have to consider the recent NICE guidelines were created by GPs without any medical cannabis training. Also; we’re currently led to believe there isn’t enough evidence in the use, side effects and outcomes of medical cannabis.
Dr Leon says: “There is so much evidence into the history of medical cannabis and how it has been used over the course of hundreds of years. The cannabis plant has over 6000 years of documented history with many different cultures throughout the centuries recognising and utilising its medical properties.”
“Clearly, we need to educate doctors both current and in training; we need to look at current research and we need to provide more support to charities such as Drug Science and Project TWENTY21, who are trying to fight for the future of medical cannabis – by gathering new, improved evidence.”
At The Primary Care Cannabis Network, we are reaching out to and are working with other organisations and societies, so we can educate and advance scientific research.
The aim is to expand the knowledge of cannabis-based medical treatments and focus on academic research, education, key-papers and open discussions.
We focus specifically on the needs of GPs and are creating a community that will enable GPs to confidently work together and speak with specialists to understand the various regulatory pathways that exist within the UK.
Cannabis Health is THE UK magazine covering cannabis medicine and wellbeing from every angle. It is affiliated with the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society and lists campaigner Hannah Deacon, leading expert Professor Mike Barnes and prominent doctor Dani Gordon on our editorial panel. For a limited time only, we are offering a free – absolutely no strings – annual subscription to the quarterly print title. You will receive four issues, delivered with discretion to your address – with no hidden fees or obligation to pay beyond that. To repeat, this is a 100% free promotion available to the first 100,000 sign-ups.
High THC drugs effective for fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia sufferers can benefit from cannabis with a high THC content, say researchers.
But those patients in the trial who received cannabis with only cannabidiol (CBD) showed no relief at all, say medics at Dutch Leiden University Medical Centre.
A total of 20 patients participated in the study which was funded by Dutch medical cannabis maker Bedrocan. Investigators conducted a series of measurements and tests before and after three cannabis drugs and one placebo drug was administered to 20 patients.
In one test, a weight was placed on the muscle between the thumb and forefinger. Principal Investigator, Professor Albert Dahan, head of the Anaesthesia and Pain Research Unit of the Department of Anaesthesiology said: “Healthy people can handle ten kilograms.
“For a fibromyalgia patient, one kilogram is already painful. But after administering Bedrocan products with THC, we saw that the same patient could suddenly bear ten kilos. Fibromyalgia patients experience pressure pain on muscles and tendons especially. Because only Bediol and Bedrocan show good results and the CBD product Bedrolite not at all, it means that especially THC is effective in this specific condition.”
Researchers say further work is required to determine whether the same results on pain relief can be reproduced in a long-term study with fibromyalgia patients.
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