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Where there’s a Will, there’s a way

Brave William Frost was given less than six months to live when his terminal condition progressed. Then his parents discovered CBD, and a special diet, and everything changed, as Andrew Mernin reports.

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The Frost family were reluctant tabloid headliners in spring 2017. ‘Tot shocks docs,’ declared the Sun newspaper. ‘Boy’s aggressive brain tumour shrinks thanks to CANNABIS compound, parents claim,’ it continued.

The boy in question, William, now seven, did indeed experience remarkable results in tackling a terminal condition after taking cannabis oil.

But the Frosts were somewhat uncomfortable with their moment of red top heat.

The message that ‘cannabis cures cancer’, as the story seemed to pronounce to the world, could be dangerous and misleading; and the column inches devoted to William didn’t reveal the full picture of his journey.

Dad Stephen has since made it his mission to help uncover the true facts about the potential role cannabis can play in fighting paediatric brain tumours.

The family’s charity, Make William Well, has helped to raise £100,000 to support ground-breaking research on the topic; and Stephen is now a regular speaker at insight- sharing events focused on childhood cancers and their possible links to cannabis treatments.

“It’s been so much of a rollercoaster over the last few years that our emotions are almost blunted or exhausted. You can’t really describe how it feels,” he says over the noise of a busy coffee shop near the family home.

“We were basically told he had a brain tumour and probably had five years to live. It was utterly devastating.”

It all started innocuously with little signs; the type fretted over by young parents but downplayed by doctors. William was 18 months old and had just started nursery when he began experiencing sickness and teething issues commonly seen in toddlers.

But he was also finding balancing unusually difficult for a child of his age, and walking with his head tilted to one side.

After several trips to the GP, he was referred to the local eye, ear, nose and throat (EENT) department.

But his parents felt a looming sense that his condition was more serious than the speculated ear problem.

“My wife had been on the headsmart.org.uk website, which supports the early diagnosis of brain tumours, and William had some of the symptoms. Then one night I picked him up and he threw up on me for no apparent reason. That was it, we thought there was something seriously not right here.

“We went to accident and emergency and after a week of tests in which they could find nothing wrong with him, they finally agreed to do an MRI scan. That’s when they found the tumour.

“We were told it was terminal and that there was a five year survival rate. If he had surgery and they could get it out then he might have a chance at longer than that. But if they didn’t, then it would be much shorter.”

The tumour was around the size of a golf ball, near to the centre of his brain. It was diagnosed as a ‘grade three anaplastic ependymoma of the fourth ventricle’. Within days, William was taken into surgery at Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, and the tumour was removed.

Due to its proximity to critical nerves, however, he was left with partial paralysis on his left hand side. This meant he couldn’t move this side of his face, or swallow properly, and had to be tube fed.

Because of the grade of the tumour there was a significant chance it would likely come back so further treatment was required. William started chemotherapy, but was unable to tolerate the full planned 13 months of treatment.

He was already deaf in his left side, possibly as a result of surgery, and was beginning to lose high tone hearing in his right side, likely due to the chemotherapy. Treatment therefore ceased after nine months.

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But the family received the welcomed news that tumour had been “fully resected” and there was no sign of regrowth.

Stephen says: “I don’t think the outlook ever really changed but we were hopeful. We pushed the idea that it could return to the back of our minds and hoped that we’d got it. As a parent, if you’re told its fully resected and your child’s had chemo too, you kind of hope that that’s it. But obviously the cancer was a particularly nasty one.

“He was still a bit wobbly on his feet at the time, but he made a good fight of doing the things other children get up to at that age, like going to playgroup and so on.”

When his balance problems worsened, their underlying fears that the tumour would regrow were realised – and this time it was in an even more precarious place, tangled around the brain stem.

The only option was a “very risky” surgery, which successfully removed most, but not all, of the tumour. The family were then told that William could be considered for Proton Beam Therapy in America. This is a less damaging form of radiotherapy than that offered in the UK.

Yet, although the NHS had approved funding, the centre in America ultimately denied treatment him due to his tracheostomy and the possible complications of travelling to America.

In the meantime, the tumour had regrown exponentially since the surgery. William was fast-tracked onto a six week course of radiotherapy during which sickness was a constant issue.

But the tumour was increasing in size and, despite going through another round of chemotherapy, it’s growth could not be stopped. Doctors gave the family the heart-breaking news that there were no other treatment options available.

“They said, ‘unfortunately that’s it’ and they gave us details of a hospice. We were told that William only had six months maximum left and wouldn’t live to see Christmas.”

And so began a desperate hunt for alternatives beyond what was available on the NHS.

One glimmer of hope was that William’s tumour had the correct profile for the ketogenic diet to possibly have an effect. This is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low- carbohydrate diet sometimes used to control severe childhood epilepsy.

But Stephen and his wife’s search also brought them to CBD.

“We didn’t know at the time if it was possible to go down the THC route, or how we could get hold of it, or CBD that we could trust. This was in 2016 before CBD had become readily available.

“We spoke to our consultant who couldn’t recommend it and said not to bother with it because it hadn’t been through preliminary trials.” Ignoring this advice, they found a private clinic offering a synthetic CBD treatment, which they decided to try in conjunction with the ketogenic diet.

“This was the only way we could get hold of what we could trust was CBD and they charged us a lot of money for quite a small amount.

Then six months after being told nothing more could be done for William, they noticed an improvement in his condition.

An MRI scan revealed that his tumour had shrunk to around a third of its original size.

“We don’t know what worked exactly, but we know the tumour shrank. Was it the CBD? Was it a combination of this and the ketogenic diet? Radiotherapists even argue that it could be delayed effects from the radiotherapy, which would be surprising given how long after the radiotherapy it occurred.

“We don’t know whether there was a synergistic effect between the CBD, the diet and the delayed effects of the radiotherapy.”

The tumour remained stable at its reduced size for around 18 months until scans showed that it had started growing again. William underwent another surgery, removing almost all of the tumour, before more chemotherapy.

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He continued on cannabinoids and the ketogenic diet and, by late last year, his scans were clear.

He now takes a non-synthetic CBD product containing more cannabinoids than his previous regime, with the aim of killing the remains of the tumour.

He is also undergoing metronomic chemotherapy (lower dosage with less side-effects) continuing on the ketogenic diet alongside his dad.

“We hope this will keep it under control but I’ve also read certain lab-based studies that suggest it can actually be killed by cannabinoids. That’s the hope.”

The family’s charity, Make William Well, has teamed up with Brain Tumour Charity to raise funds for vital research that could ultimately shape treatments for other children like William.

It has helped to raise over £100,000 for ongoing research led by the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre at the University of Nottingham.

The research aims to answer the question: Is there a role for cannabidiol in the treatment of children’s brain tumours? The researchers say: “CBD is widely used by brain tumour patients, sometimes with considerable success. But, we need to objectively understand how CBD affects the cells, and why the results patients and families are reporting occur.

“This knowledge is essential in order to determine what the therapeutic dose of CBD might be. Without this, clinicians or families may inadvertently be too conservative or liberal in their dosage, and not achieve optimum results for the patient.”

Stephen is hopeful that other cannabinoids, including THC, might also be included in such research in future.

“From the outset in pushing for this, our aim was to get all cannabinoids researched so that eventually they can be issued free of charge on the NHS once they’ve gone through the clinical trials.”

Specific areas of the soon-to-be-concluded lab-based studies include to what extent oxygen levels in tumour cells treated with CBD, have on markers within the cell which indicate the beginning of the process of cell death.

Also, some patients are taking cannabis oil as an adjuvant therapy (applied after an initial cancer treatment) for their brain tumour.

The treatment is to take the oil for CBD three days on and three days off. But it is not yet understood how this action affects tumour cells. Furthermore, the researchers have investigated in further detail how CBD affects the cell receptors, to better understand the effect the drug has on tumour cells.

According to the researchers: “This research could have considerable clinical benefits, and therefore it is very important that any conclusions we draw are able to stand up to international scientific scrutiny.

“To achieve this, we are now in the process of detailed examining all  of our data from the project.”

The findings are expected imminently, from a study which is underpinned by global collaboration.

Lead researcher Professor Richard Grundy visited The University of Western Australia as part of the study to learn first-hand about their CBD research studies focussing on medulloblastoma.

He spent time with Dr Clara Andradas Arias, an international post-doctoral researcher in the Brain Tumour Research Lab at Telethon Kids Institute in Perth.

This international collaboration has enabled the sharing of data on how CBD affects cells in paediatric tumours. Further studies include a planned ketogenic diet and CBD clinical trial, which is hopefully taking place this year.

More generally, as UK health authorities continue to call for more evidence of the medical benefits of cannabis, Stephen would like to see investment in “adaptive clinical trials”.

These are trials in which modifications in response to the participant’s outcomes and other factors such as side effects are allowed after it has begun, without its validity or integrity being questioned.

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They are distinct from ‘double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials’ which are considered the gold standard in medical testing and typically relied upon by the pharmaceutical industry to prove the benefits of new drugs.

Doctors and campaigners who advocate medicinal cannabis argue that such trials are not compatible with cannabis medicine. They argue that the plant is too complex and is not a single molecule pharmaceutical product that these trials are designed for.

They also point to the growing body of observational and case study data supporting the use of medicinal cannabis to treat various conditions.

Stephen says: “Why are such clinical trials the gold standard? They take too long, are too expensive and clearly haven’t been very good in terms of coming up with effective treatments for childhood brain tumours.

“Adaptive clinical trials, which are far cheaper and produce faster results, should be carried out on a multitude of cannabinoids. This way more children could be given the opportunity of sooner access to paid- for quality assured medicinal cannabis products under close clinical supervision.

“I believe the current system of gold standard trials has failed our children – only one drug has ever been specifically developed to treat a childhood brain tumour.

“There are hundreds of papers written about cannabinoids and the evidence that it works in the lab is overwhelming. But there just aren’t the gold standard clinical trials.

“There are just four drugs that have ever been developed specifically for childhood brain tumours, the rest are hand-me-down treatments from adult cancers, which are very different biologically to their childhood equivalents.

“We are cutting, burning, and poisoning our children with decades old inappropriate approaches when cannabinoids are starting to be shown to be potentially effective but are currently a long way off being prescribed on the NHS.

“I believe there needs to be a sea-change in the way we go about looking for childhood cancer cures and I believe that pushing for adaptive clinical trials is the way forward.”

While continuing to push for research, Stephen is also regularly contacted by parents of other children facing similar challenges to William.

“I try to help, and I get a lot of questions about dosages, but I would never recommend one thing or the other. There’s generally massive confusion out there about cannabis medicine.

“A lot of people think, like I did before we went through all this, that the whole medicinal cannabis campaign is just led by people wanting to legalise marijuana for recreational use.

“They don’t see the evidence which proves that it can work on brain tumours, certainly in the lab. For whatever reason, the clinical research isn’t getting done and that’s now why we’re campaigning.

“Its one thing getting it legalised, but without the research you’re still not going to know about the dosages or side- effects. If I was a doctor I wouldn’t want to give a drug that hadn’t been through clinical trials. Also, different cannabinoids could have different effects on different cancers. This is where the research needs to go and in a way that reflects the complexities of the plant.

“What we want to do with Make William Well is to say ‘there is a potential new advancement here, let’s get the focus on kids.’ Three years ago I didn’t think we’d have a chance of getting a research study done, yet we proposed it, the centre agreed to it and we helped to raise the funds to do it. After that we didn’t think there was a cat in hell’s chance that we’d ever be looking at clinical trials, but now that’s hopefully realistic as well.”

To donate to Make William Well visit www.makewilliamwell.com.

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Case Studies

ADHD Awareness Month: “There is more to ADHD than just annoying stereotypes”

To mark ADHD Awareness Month, we are focusing on patient’s stories of using cannabis to help their symptoms and manage their daily lives.

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ADHD: A pink pen highlighting the word ADHD in a text

For ADHD awareness month, Cannabis Health meets patients who use cannabis to treat the symptoms of the condition.

In the first of our series on ADHD, we meet Jakob Fullagar who was diagnosed with the condition as a teenager. He treats his condition with a combination of prescription medication and cannabis.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition. It can affect people’s behaviour in that they can seem restless, they may have trouble concentrating and seem impulsive. While a lot of people are diagnosed at a young age, there are adults being diagnosed with the disorder.

It is thought that ADHD presents in three different ways:

Inattentive: An individual may struggle to organise or complete tasks, pay attention to details, follow instructions or conversations. It also causes a person to be easily distracted or to forget parts of their daily routine.

Hyperactive: A person with hyperactivity may fidget or move or talk a lot. They can struggle with sitting still for a long period of time due to feeling restless. They also struggle with impulsivity and may interrupt frequently, speak at inappropriate times or fail to wait for their turn. They may be more accident-prone.

Combination: They present symptoms of both hyperactivity and inattentiveness.

ADHD: A person sitting at a table laughing

Jakob Fullagar

ADHD and Jakob

Jakob was diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager. As with a lot of ADHD children, he was labelled the naughty child and was placed into therapy. ADHD symptoms are often mistaken for emotional or disciplinary problems. It is estimated that ADHD children hear an average of 20,000 more negative messages than neurotypical children by the time they are 10-years-old.

In Jakob’s case, teachers also failed to recognise signs of the condition in his behaviour.

“I was a troublemaker as I caused problems and couldn’t concentrate. It took about seven to eight years of therapy before a psychiatrist said it actually might be ADHD, which made a lot more sense.

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“I was straight away labelled as a naughty problem child and there was no point where a teacher turned around and said there may be something underlying there,” said Jakob.

As well as therapy, Jakob was placed on a low dose of Concerta. Concerta is a common ADHD medication containing methylphenidate similar to Ritalin. It is thought to improve focus in attentive presentations and also decrease risky or hyperactive behaviour.

He continued: “They just kept increasing it in three or four weekly increments. It tends to work fairly well. I can normally get about a year and a half before I feel I need an increase.”

Jakob had been consuming cannabis recreationally before he realised that it could be beneficial for his ADHD. It wasn’t until he received his diagnosis that he realised he had been subconsciously medicating with it.

“I started [using cannabis] before I actually knew I had ADHD, a friend recommended it,” he said.

“It wasn’t until I got diagnosed and talked about it with doctors that we realised I had been unknowingly self-medicating and self-managing. But it does work. I realised I could chill a little bit and I’m less all over the place.”

ADHD studies

The studies of cannabis on ADHD are few but promising. A small Israeli study from 2020 on medical cannabis patients suggested that CBN may help to reduce symptoms. The study involved 59 patients who were asked to record their ADHD, sleep, anxiety patterns using questionnaires. Those on a higher dose of CBN recorded less medication use while those on the lower doses recorded less anxiety. CBN is a controlled substance in the UK as it is created when THC breaks down and becomes oxygenated.

Jakob finds that medical cannabis has pros and cons when it comes to symptom management.

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“In terms of benefits, it’s absolutely taken me down a bit when it comes to energy levels. I am able to think things through after I’ve consumed. I’ll happily be able to sit and properly think out a process rather than just jumping straight in. I’ll take a step back.”

ADHD people can struggle with blurting things out, acting without thinking or failing to recognise risks as they act on impulse. This can have negative effects on their jobs, home lives and relationships. It can be difficult to take a step back to recognise the potential for danger, upset or difficulties.

He added: “I can process and choose an appropriate response. When it comes to being social, it’s much better to be able to navigate situations where I may upset someone by speaking before thinking.”

Diagnosis rise

While ADHD diagnoses are on the rise, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the condition. This can cause ADHD people to lose jobs, relationships and friendships. A survey from the US ADHD Awareness Coalition showed that more than half of those who participated said they had lost or changed a job because of their ADHD symptoms. A further 36 percent said they had four or more jobs in the past ten years with 6.5 percent saying they had more than 10.

Jakob is honest at work about his ADHD. Although he has just started working in a butchers, the smells, sights and textures don’t bother him. However, he admits that noise is a problem with distraction.

“I started working at a butchers about two months ago and it’s noticeable that I take longer to learn,” he said.

“At the minute, I’m constantly learning new things every day so I explained to everyone at work and said I have a learning difficulty so please be patient with me.

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“They have to show me things a few times and supervise me while I try it myself. It takes all of that while I crack a process. Then there are the sensory processing issues that come with it. There is constantly fans, fridges and machinery going on and it’s a running joke that I can’t hear anything unless people shout.”

Sensory overload can happen when a person has input from their five senses that they can process. Multiple conversations, flashing lights, or a loud party can all produce the symptoms. It is common in ADHD, autism, fibromyalgia and PTSD.

ADHD: A person holding a yellow phone taking a selfie

 

ADHD and cannabis stigma

While Jakob is open at work about his diagnosis, he does get frustrated that people feel it’s about just being a stereotype. He believes that cannabis use and ADHD still carries a stigma.

“I think especially around ADHD, there is a stigma. You tell someone you have the condition and they think it’s about hyperactivity, being energetic and funny. There is a lot more to ADHD than just annoying stereotypes,” he said.

“When it comes to cannabis, I think a lot of opinions have changed over time so I don’t tend to say that I use it a lot of the time but the majority of people know that I do. I think the main reason people don’t like cannabis these days is because of the negative connotations around it.”

Jakob added: “I wish people knew we are all trying our best with the resources and strategies we have at that moment but we have to try that little bit harder, unfortunately.

“It’s not all balancing, happiness and excitement, as it can be really stressful.”

Read more: I’m prescribed cannabis for ADHD but I can’t travel home with it

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Case Studies

CBD brand created by a Welsh athlete releases report on potential health benefits of CBD

The Healthcare Technology Centre (HTC) partners with Welsh brand Hemp Heroes to discover the potential health benefits of CBD products. 

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Fibromyalgia: A cbd oil bottle containing yellow oil has a dropper being placed into it

The Healthcare Technology Centre (HTC) partners with Welsh brand Hemp Heros to discover the potential health benefits of CBD products.

The Welsh HTC led by Swansea University Medical School collaborated with Swansea and Ireland based company, Hemp Heros. Hemp Heros was co-founded by  David Hartigan and martial arts athlete John Philips.

The report was the result of several months of research into the benefits of CBD- based products on a range of conditions. These included epilepsy, side effects of chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis (MS), stress and anxiety.

Speaking with Cannabis Health News, Hemp Heros co-founder David Hartigan explains how an interest in martial arts helped him to meet John and start the company.

Athletes and CBD

David said: “It’s a bit of an interesting story how myself and John met. My background is in business consultancy and I’ve always been into martial arts since I was a kid. John asked my brother who is a musician to do some walkout music for UFC. As John was only newly signed at that time, I wondered if he had anyone to help him with marketing and sponsors. I became John’s manager.”

He added: “I started looking at CBD companies because athletes were starting to use it. I thought there was a huge opportunity to get John sponsored by a company. We did get a few samples from different companies but the quality was hit or miss. Even the instructions when you were trying to read it could be confusing.”

John’s first experience with CBD was not actually on himself but his dog, Alfie. When he became ill, John began treating him with CBD after realising that Tramadol was not working. The vet had exhausted all options for treatment but CBD helped him to recover.

David said: “I have an uncle who is a powerlifter and he has a couple of Irish records. He has a number of injuries he started taking CBD for pain and inflammation. At one stage, he couldn’t even change the gear stick in his car but he has much better mobility and pain management now. So between my story, John’s and the lack of transparency in the industry in the market, we decided to try an investigation.”

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David spent six to eight months researching the whole industry speaking to anyone he could about hemp or CBD. He also joined the board for the Irish Hemp Cooperative. They spent months researching everything before finding a supplier to get them started. The brand has now grown from three or four products to over twenty including a successful pet range.

Hemp heros: A man wearing a black t-shirt stands next to a dog

Welsh university study

The brand partnered with Swansea University and are part of the accelerator programme there. They had planned to participate in studies on CBD but unfortunately, COVID hit just as they began to start the studies. The Welsh Accelerate programme aims to create lasting economic value by helping innovators in Wales to translate their ideas into solutions, enabling them to be adopted in health and care.

David explained: “Dr Daniel Rees, who is one of the researchers at Swansea University reached out to us. He had seen our products around the place and wanted to know if we would be interested to do some studies in the life sciences department.”

“The whole idea of the Accelerator programme is to identify potential services or products that can have a positive impact on people’s lives. It improves the lives of the end-user. Dan highlighted that very little research was done on CBD in this context. We are passionate about transparency so we really wanted to push the research. However just as we had hoped to start lab tests, COVID hit.”

The COVID situation didn’t force a complete shutdown but changed the direction of the study for the researchers. As the colleges were closed, there were no ways of getting anyone into a lab for testing so David and the team decided to go down the road of research producing a report on the effectiveness of CBD. The initial study paves the way for future research activities around four key pillars: pain, sleep, anxiety, and recovery.

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Lab study to research reports

“What we did was change gears so instead of a lab-based study, we are going to do a more research-based one. We researched the case studies for CBD and hemp-based products along with the history behind them. We looked at different cannabinoids like CBD or CBDA, different terpenes and then unique extraction methods. We went into deep dives on what studies were there for cancer, sleep, inflammation, pain and took them as different pillars. This is what our report contains.”

He added: “We wanted to show some form of evidence for how CBD could possibly work for Parkinson’s by looking at the findings, how the studies are performed? What is the wider picture for sleep or inflammation? This could give us a foundation to build on.”

The next step

Hemp Heros started to submit an application called Smart Partnership to the University for the management side. This would allow them to secure funding to get an associate who would work between the Welsh brand and the university.

“It gives the company the tools and techniques to use these findings and apply them so you can continue your work. We have all of this anecdotal evidence on why people use our products but then the smart partnership would allow us to do a deeper dive and validate what our understandings are.”

He explained: “We have set out three pillars essentially. Sleep is one that we want to investigate and they have a sleep lab there. We want to start out with something quite simple like 20 participants with sleep issues and give them a protocol. They log everything then they take a set dose of our product for a week to see what the impact is. The next step would be to go into the sleep lab to actually monitor what someone’s sleep pattern is, how quickly it works and what the effects are.”

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Welsh: A man walking a dog on a lead across a beach

As well as the studies and research they have conducted, the brand is still planning to work with different athletes.

“Should athletes be using prescription pain medications to help with their pain to get through the day? They could have a more natural alternative with no side effects. Your body is already built for cannabinoids, not really for painkillers. That’s why a lot of people have issues with their kidneys when they are on painkillers for so long because they are trying to process everything.”

David is also involved in the advocacy side. He believes that Ireland needs to match the European level to make sure it isn’t left behind. He sits on the Irish Hemp Cooperative Board who are trying to change the laws.

“There are a couple of TDS (Ministers) who said that they would be interested in the sports angle. We aren’t looking for full-blown cannabis legal for everyone but we actually want to just look at hemp and the production because you can get a license but then technically what you grow is illegal. There is a massive gap in the law where the two laws don’t match and we don’t match at the European level. We need to make sure we are on par with our international counterparts.”

Read more: Pain, anxiety and sleep are the most common reasons people use CBD

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Advocacy

Emigration: Access is more than just medical access, it’s also about business

As Ireland continues to enforce prohibition, we meet Aoife McConnell who has moved her yoga business to Spain

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Access: A red Irish passport on top of a blue covid mask with a stop watch on top to highlight emigration

In a new series, Cannabis Health News talks to people who have experienced emigration in search of safe, legal cannabis access.

Read last week’s story here

Previous stories have focused on the difficulty of packing your entire life into boxes and emigrating with your family to a new country for access. But there is more to Irish prohibition than patients and access, it’s the loss of local businesses moving abroad.

In our fourth instalment, we speak to yoga expert, Aoife McConnell about moving her life and yoga business, Puff Puff Pose to Spain.

Aoife left Ireland during the summer of 2021 so has only recently arrived in Granada. She packed her entire life into boxes to get better access to cannabis and also, set up a yoga studio with a difference. She runs the popular, Puff Puff Pose, cannabis yoga studio which encourages practitioners to combine relaxing yoga with cannabis. The studio went online during the pandemic but she hopes to be able to establish a physical space now that she has left Ireland.

Safe, legal access abroad

Like most people in Ireland, her use started as recreational when she shared cannabis with friends. While she acknowledges the recreational side, she says she gets all the benefits of cannabis.

Prohibition in Ireland, and all over the world means that most people when they consume cannabis, often they have no idea what they are actually being given. Unlike legal states in America where someone can select what they need and know the THC or CBD content of a strain. Once Aoife became involved in the community, she realised how prohibition also stifles education about the plant.

Her use is mainly recreational however, while in Ireland she was forced to run her cannabis yoga business online or outdoors as it was illegal.

“In the last two or three years, I’ve become a lot more involved in the community of cannabis. Before then, I had no idea that were even strains of cannabis like Indica or Sativa. You were given what you were given. There is no source of understanding because there is no education around the whole thing. It could have been anything in a bag as we wouldn’t know the difference.”

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She added: “When you realise they actually have completely different profiles or effects then that matters for someone who needs the plant for medicinal purposes. It matters how it’s grown, taken care of or what the product actually is. I think it was just teenage ignorance but I didn’t even think of the fact there was so much to it. You just take what you are given and like it.”

Access: A woman with dark hair laughs against a dark background

Finding a space

Prohibition meant her classes were unable to find a space despite their emphasis on wellness and relaxation. Aoife began to consider the longevity of her business especially as COVID rules relaxing meant people were starting to look for offline classes again. She realised it was time to leave Ireland.

“I’ve been doing my classes mostly online or outdoors because it’s unregulated or illegal. It’s hard to get into a space to facilitate those classes. I wondered where I could go in Europe that could facilitate those classes. The Netherlands are starting to pull back their laws a bit and get more strict, especially after COVID so you never know how they are going to react. Spain is moving in the opposite direction.”

The global cannabis industry is expected to reach $90.4 by 2026 thanks to the growing acceptance of cannabis consumption along with the medical side. This is everything from edibles to dispensaries to products. Ireland currently allows CBD and medical cannabis but the recreational side is still illegal. The current systems in place for medical cannabis are not functional with the MCAP program yet to even start despite being introduced in 2019.

It has been highlighted that the tax and profits raised by a legal recreational system could contribute to some of the financial problems experienced by the country. Legal systems in countries such as Atlanta Georgia, California and Massachusetts have proven to be successful. Sales in Massachusetts recently topped $2 billion which is almost double what the state reported in November 2020. Cannabis was legalised for adult use in late 2018.

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Access to the Spanish model

While Spain has legalised the growth of up to two plants in your own home, there are still issues with the system. There have been reports of cannabis clubs, where it is legal to consume cannabis, being potentially closed. But for the meantime, a patient must sign to say they are addicted to cannabis and a resident before being allowed entry to one of the clubs.

“There are a lot of regulations around the clubs. You have to sign an affidavit to say you are addicted to cannabis and seeking out the club to facilitate your addiction. You have to say the club is not enticing you or advertising in any way. Most of them look like a door and you wouldn’t even know apart from the smell.”

Once you are inside, there is a loophole that allows this club to operate as cannabis is a ‘hobby.’ The illegal part is the buying and selling of the cannabis. I’m not sure where the government thinks they are getting this cannabis from. So I started to think that Spain was where I wanted to be.”

Access - a cbd topical on a wooden surface with other herbs around in glass jars

Deciding where to go in Spain was easy. Aoife had a friend based in Granada in the south so she chose to go there. She visited during the summer and fell in love with the architecture, history and feel of the city. She felt it was the perfect place to move the business. Aoife also teaches English online so her day job was perfectly suited to moving abroad.

“I quit my job and went on a tour of Europe. I’m still settling in here and learning the siesta way of life. But so far so good. There are a lot of experts here and everyone understands where I am coming from so they are very helpful.

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Aoife highlights how the leap into the unknown is often the hardest part of emigration. She feels she has never been this self-sufficient. Her day starts with tutoring online to pay bills but she will be opening the yoga business soon. In an unusual move, Aoife’s previous experience was as an airline hostess.

“It’s exciting to be stepping out and owning my own business. I’m still terrified about it but also really excited. I used to work for an international airline, Emirates when I lived in Dubai. I travelled everywhere. I was always looking for a studio or thinking about building my own.”

“I struggled to make friends in yoga class especially when moving to a new city. In my classes, at the beginning, we always consume together then chat. I’ll always bring orange juice, kombucha and biscuits. We sit around for as long as people want. It’s a real community-building atmosphere.”

Time to leave

Aoife is proud to be Irish but explains the problems with the country mean she is not thinking about staying.

“I love the fact I’m Irish and that part of my personality. I would love for my kids to have that much Irish in them. I couldn’t afford to live there as we are being priced out of the country. I couldn’t afford the type of lifestyle I would like to have. It’s ridiculous. The fact that we didn’t have a green passport for so long. We’re the only country in the EU who weren’t ready when that was rolled out speaks volumes.”

Read our previous stories on emigration here: “I would tell people if they are thinking about it, to go as you’ll get better access.”

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