Lorna Bland had never been drunk – let alone high – when she became one of the first recipients of a medicinal cannabis prescription in the UK. She tells Cannabis Health what it’s like tackling stigma as a ‘suburban housewife’.
“There is a perception of the type of person who consumes cannabis, and I’m everything that that kind of person is not,” says Lorna Bland, a 57-year-old housewife, who lives in Surrey with her husband, and has two grown up children.
“I discovered cannabis in my 50s, I was of the generation where it was perceived to be a bad thing. I’ve never been drunk, so I certainly had no interest in getting high – which is what I associated with consuming cannabis.
She adds: “I’ve had to adjust my mindset to the idea that this isn’t a dangerous thing, it is a therapeutic medication.”
Lorna was one of the first UK patients to receive a prescription for medicinal cannabis following the law change in 2018.
She has been living with fibromyalgia for more than a decade, diagnosed in 2007 after a year of unexplained pain and chronic fatigue.
“Fibromyalgia is living with a level of pain that other people cannot imagine,” she says.
“It’s 24/7 pain, in 100 percent of my body, 100 percent of the time. Every movement I make has a pain reaction to it and it does make life really quite unbearable.”
There’s is no specific medication to treat fibromyalgia, so instead Lorna was prescribed various heavy duty pharmaceuticals to manage the pain, including amitriptyline, gabapentin and pregabalin, which robbed her of a month of her life, she says – “I was on another planet.”
With nothing else available to her, Lorna describes being ‘abandoned’ by the NHS and began exploring CBD, but it wasn’t enough to relieve her pain.
She resisted cannabis – despite some persuasion from her two children – until it was rescheduled in 2018. She went to see a pain specialist and became the first patient he had prescribed medicinal cannabis for.
“We learned about it together and I was more than willing to be his guinea pig,” she says.
“That first prescription cost me £1,032 pounds for three months worth of flower, which was for dry vaping.
“I later realised that it was not going to be the right method for me and that I needed something that was a bit more discreet.”
Lorna admits that she feared what people would think, particularly her neighbours who she had to warn not to be alarmed by the smell – but she needn’t have.
“The response from family and friends was incredible,” she says.
“The neighbours said ‘all we want is for you to be well’ and my mum who’s in her 70s could not have been more supportive.
“The people I worried the most about telling were my in-laws, but they actually offered to pay for the prescription.”
Lorna eventually moved onto an oil which is more effective and actually cheaper. Her prescription now costs £80 pounds for a 30ml bottle of oil, which will last seven weeks. It works out at £50 a month, or £1.60 a day.
“I appreciate that I’m in a very fortunate position to be very well supported by my husband to be able to go down the private prescription route,” says Lorna.
“I struggle sometimes with the fact that I know so many patients can’t afford it but I think it’s important to get the message out there that it is possible to get cheaper medication.
“It goes without saying that I should be getting this on the NHS, but I think because I’m paying for the treatment, I’ve got that financial investment so I tend to invest much more in myself as well.”
Before taking medical cannabis Lorna would be able to take an average of around 1,000 steps a day – over 18 months later she can do anything up to 10,000 and is out for a walk every day with the dogs.
“It has absolutely transformed my life,” she says.
“I’m not pain-free and I’m not cured. I’m never going to be back to how I was but I now have some quality to my life that has been missing for all these years.”
Despite having to give up her job with a charity that she loved after her diagnosis, she has been able to continue the work in the voluntary sector which means so much to her.
“I went through a period of grief following diagnosis, adjusting to the fact that life was not going to be the same as it was before, but I believe in having a positive mindset so for me it was about finding the things that I could do rather than focusing on the things that I couldn’t,” she says.
Having volunteered since the age of 15, Lorna has spent many years specialising in bereavement care, receiving a BBC award in recognition of her work supporting families of stillborn babies, and was a major incident responder for the Grenfell fire and London terror attacks.
More recently she also helped launch the patient-led advocacy service PLEA, to challenge the inequalities in access to cannabis-based medicinal products in the UK.
“PLEA has really pushed me to do things I would never have imagined doing, purely because I wanted to help other patients,” says Lorna.
Although she describes herself as a ‘private person’, she is using her platform to tackle the stigma still attached to cannabis consumption in society.
“For me the whole point of going public was to destigmatise it,” she says.
“I don’t meet the mould – I am a middle-aged suburban housewife – I’m not living an extraordinary life, I’m not trying to climb mountains or run marathons, I just medicate in order to hoover.”
Lorna adds: “It’s important that we are represented. We’re just ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives – and not once in all of this have I ever been high.”
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