After seeing how cannabis helped her mum’s battle with cancer, Alexandra Carstea is leading the campaign for medical legalisation in Romania in her memory.
Next week, lawyer and mum-of-one, Alexandra Carstea, will bring together clinicians, researchers and campaigners from across the globe, for the first international medical cannabis conference hosted in Romania.
She hopes the online event, on Tuesday 23 February, will be the final push for the long-awaited legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in her home country.
“We’re at a point where a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine we would ever be,” says Alexandra.
“At times I have felt very lonely, disappointed and heartbroken but I kept on fighting and now I am optimistic and hope that we will have the law passed this year.”
The bill is named after Alexandra’s mother, Victoria (which happens to translate as victory in English) who passed away from cancer-related complications in 2019.
Victoria was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2015 and given only a few months to live.
“All our lives completely changed from that moment on,” remembers Alexandra.
“Until then I had never imagined I would become an advocate for cannabis.”
Her mother underwent a successful operation, but two years later was diagnosed with bone metastases which had spread to her down her spine and into her hips.
The only medical treatment available to her was a powerful cocktail of prescription drugs, which left her with little quality of life.
“It completely changed her way of living, she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t sleep, she had nightmares, it was a terrible period of time for the whole family,” says Alexandra.
“The doctor told me that she was close to kidney failure and that was the moment that I realised that if she doesn’t die of cancer, she will die of her other organs failing as a result of the medication she was on.
“I knew if she carried on taking these pills she wouldn’t survive, so I decided to look for other solutions for the pain.”
Alexandra began reading about cannabis (at the time, in 2016, CBD was not yet available in Romania) and paid for online consultations with medical professionals in the US and Canada.
She tried to broach the topic with her mother’s doctors, but they “turned their backs” on her every time.
“If I started to talk about cannabis to her oncologist they would tell me it was illegal and had no medical value,” she says.
“It was exhausting because as I kept finding out more, I wanted my mum to have the option to try it.”
Alexandra launched a national petition to legalise medical cannabis which quickly gathered signatures, and began talking to national cancer associations and patient groups to spread the word.
Meanwhile, as a professional lawyer, with a father who was a judge, she risked everything to illegally source cannabis for her mum.
“In my family everything was about obeying the law and being upstanding citizens. I didn’t want to turn to the black market, but I was so desperate and my mother was so sick that taking her to another country wasn’t an option,” she says.
“Back then there was no information out there, so it was my responsibility.
“I managed to lower the dose of the pills that the doctors gave her and after a few weeks she started to become engaged in her life again. She was talking, eating, sleeping, her anxiety was gone and she was optimistic.
“But I couldn’t buy the amount she needed in a consistent quality from the black market.”
Alexandra continues: “My mum was actually very positive about it and did a lot of lobbying from her hospital bed. Everywhere she went she told doctors and patients about cannabis treatment and encouraged them to support the petition.”
Victoria started chemotherapy at the end of 2018, but in early 2019 was hospitalised with a complication and passed away on 26 January.
“That was a very difficult period ,” remembers Alexandra, who also fell pregnant around the same time.
“After a struggle of four and half years I was hit by the exhaustion, depression and anxiety. I felt everything that I had restrained to keep myself optimistic for her.
“But I wanted to keep on fighting in her memory.”
A few months after her mother died, Alexandra convinced a Romanian politician to put forward the bill in parliament, while she continued to send information to politicians and medical professionals across the country.
However, she says unlike in the UK, the media were not supportive of her campaign and she faced criticism for openly talking about an illegal drug.
“Romania is a very conservative nation and no one would speak about it. I would give interviews to the press and they would always take what I said out of context,” she says.
During lockdown last year, unable to campaign in person, Alexandra started her own YouTube channel to raise awareness of medical cannabis.
Through this she connected with advocates from all over the world, including UK campaigner and director of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, Hannah Deacon and Professor Mike Barnes, who obtained the first full legal licence to prescribe cannabis in the UK, as well as Dr Andrew Agius, founder and medical director of The Pain Clinic in Malta.
Professor Barnes and Dr Agius were among the experts who agreed to deliver lectures for Romanian doctors, and all three will speak part of the International Medical Cannabis Conference next week.
Other speakers include Professor David Nutt and Dr Anne Katrin Schlag of Drug Science and Project Twenty21 in the UK, Spain’s Dr Christina Sanchez and cannabis researcher, Dr Ethan Russo, alongside doctors, advocates and scientists from all over the world.
The event will be attended by medical professionals and politicians from across Romania, including one of the country’s leading neurologists, who has publicly shown his support for the campaign.
“There is more attention on cannabis now, people are responding and asking for information and doctors are trying to educate themselves,” says Alexandra.
“I’m bringing specialists from all over the world together in one place, so everyone can access the information.
“I want to create a network of experts and share it with those in Romania.”
She adds: “You cannot forget the pain you feel when someone you love is suffering so much, but from pain beautiful things grow, such as the desire to share what you know and help others.”
“There are many people who left messages on the petition, explaining that they are in the same situation that I was; buying from the black market, fearing problems with the law and having to travel to other countries to access treatment.
“It’s difficult when you have lost someone, but you keep on fighting for other people.”
The International Medical Cannabis Conference takes place on Tuesday 23 February from 12pm GMT.
- Malta gives green light to three new cannabis clubs
- European Commission must address ‘inequality’ in access to medicinal cannabis across EU
- 1 in 8 older US adults now use cannabis products, finds study
- 3 main contributors to the entourage effect for cannabis consumers to consider
- Medical cannabis doesn’t impair cognitive function – study
- Ukraine’s medical cannabis legalisation delayed by opponents
- News4 months ago
NHS approves major clinical trial on cannabis medicines and chronic pain
- News6 months ago
UK patient secures first NHS reimbursement for cannabis flowers
- Advocacy6 months ago
Inside a UK cannabis club: changing lives, tackling stigma, building community
- News4 months ago
UK research finds GP support for cannabis as an alternative to opioids for chronic pain
- Industry4 months ago
‘Landmark’ ruling gives hope for UK CBD flower businesses
- Industry6 months ago
New report calls for overhaul of ‘discriminatory’ UK cannabis driving laws
- News4 months ago
Malta: Advocates emphasise positive effects of cannabis reform amid ‘normalisation’ concerns
- Science4 months ago
Five new cannabis studies – ALS, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, chronic pain and blood pressure