A father-of-five suffering from chronic pain has had his life turned around thanks to a private medical cannabis prescription, but the high costs mean he may be forced to end the life-changing treatment.
Five years ago, Ryan Holmwood suffered from a serious accident while working as a commercial industrial electrician, leaving his spine severely damaged.
Rendered disabled and unable to work, Ryan was checked into the Pain Clinic at Milton Keynes University Hospital where he was diagnosed with chronic pain, protruding discs and degenerative disc disease.
He was quickly put onto a course of 46 tablets a day, including opiates, synthetic opioids, benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants and anti-inflammatories.
Ryan calculated that for the last half-decade, he has taken around 16,744 tablets each year.
Although the medication has helped him deal with the excruciating pain, it has had “huge implications” for his physical health.
In 2017, he was diagnosed with fatty liver, a disease that can lead to more serious conditions such as cirrhosis – severe scarring of the liver seen at the terminal stages of chronic liver disease. Ryan doesn’t drink and eats a healthy diet, so he is convinced that it is his medication that is causing his liver to deteriorate.
Prior to his injury, Ryan says he weighed 75 kilos, a healthy weight for a man of 6ft. Five years after the injury, he had put on 45 kilos.
“I knew I was in trouble as this method of treatment was having very negative effects on my body,” he says.
“My liver function tests have been well into the 450s for the last three years, but for my age group they should be no more than 56.”
It wasn’t just his body taking a hit. Since the injury, Ryan’s mental health and family life have been severely impacted.
Heavily sedated and in pain, Ryan has struggled for the past five years to engage with his wife and kids as a result of the medication.
“If you asked any of my children back then, ‘what do your parents do?’, they would say ‘daddy sits on the sofa watching TV all day’.
“That’s all I did and that was because I was in pain and heavily sedated on tablets and morphine.
“I didn’t play or really interact with my children or wife,” he continues. “I really struggled to keep a conversation with anyone, whether that be my wife, my children or my mother.
“I was a living like a zombie.”
Last year, it all became too much and in November, Ryan says he began to have suicidal thoughts. It was at this point that he sought alternative medication to improve both his condition and his life for himself and his family.
“I felt like I was stopping my children from having a life. They didn’t go anywhere and they didn’t do anything [because] my wife doesn’t like leaving me at home for long periods of time. She’s my carer which means she has responsibility if something were to happen to me,” he added.
Ryan came across medical cannabis while researching online. Although he was suspicious at first, Ryan says he was reassured after reaching out to several medical users to hear about their experiences with the drug.
After being accepted onto Drug Science’s Project Twenty21 – a programme aiming to widen access to medical cannabis – Ryan managed to source a prescription through The Medical Cannabis Clinics, a private clinic with locations across the UK.
“I was delighted to be accepted but still sceptical,” Ryan recalls. “I went through the process of an initial consultation and was prescribed medical cannabis for the first time. I really had no idea if vaping cannabis would help but I was willing to try anything.”
On 6 January 2021, Ryan’s first prescription arrived at his house. After the first inhale, Ryan experienced “instant” relief.
“I was immediately relaxed,” he says.
“There was no waiting for tablets to kick in or waiting for morphine to work. I was truly shocked at how well it worked for my pain.
“My pain hasn’t gone away; it’s not a miracle fix, but it manages my pain as effectively as all of the drugs I was on before and cognitively, I’m a different person.
“I can do a bit more than I used to and I’m not suffering as much because of the cannabis.
“I’m able to walk further than I used to, I can drive more than I could before and my back doesn’t go into horrific spasms like it used to.”
Ryan says he hasn’t experienced a back spasm for months since starting on his cannabis prescription, whereas before, he would be hit with excruciating muscle contractions on a daily basis.
As the cannabis was working so well for his pain, Ryan started to come off some of the prescription medications that were having such a disastrous impact on his life and health. By the end of February, he was taking just eight tablets per day and had completely stopped using morphine and pain relief patches.
As he did, he noticed that he was starting to feel himself again – he says it was like “waking up from a bad dream”.
“I felt amazing, I wanted to play with my children and I could actually hold a conversation with my wife and do a lot more to help in the house. She’s much happier as a person.
“I have a four-year-old son and I missed those first few years after he was born. I was at home watching [him] but I wasn’t fully engaged with him until this year.
“But now, I’m his best friend in the whole wide universe and that’s what I care about more than anything.
“My children are happy now and I laugh. Not because I’m high but because I find things funny. Before, if the whole family started laughing, for me it was almost like not being part of it.
By the end of March, Ryan had reduced his medication plan to just six tablets per day and his life at home was better than ever.
“Life prior to cannabis was miserable. I was in pain, I was putting on weight and I almost decided to take my own life.
“Life after cannabis is the complete opposite of that and I’m bemused at why it isn’t available for more people.”
Ryan says he has lived an “amazing life” over the past three months, but now, due to the cost of his prescription, he is at risk of having to revert back to the 46 tablets a day that he once relied on.
Even with Project Twenty21 subsidising his prescription, Ryan has had to fork out £1,100 since December to pay for his daily doses of medical cannabis flower. As a disabled person with a wife and five kids, continuing with the prescription is not sustainable, he says.
To help his cause, Ryan has sent a moving email to NICE, NHS England, MHRA, Matt Hancock, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, George Freeman, Boris Johnson and his local, MP Ben Everitt, pleading with the politicians and organisations to help him access medical cannabis through the NHS.
“My family means everything to me and I want to be part of it, too,” he writes.
“I can’t make it clear enough how important this email is.
“I’m writing to you to ask for help to assist me in getting medical cannabis through the NHS, I have no idea how, so I really need your help.”
Ryan has heard back from his MP’s office who said they were unable to help him. However, he did receive a more promising response from the MHRA who provided him with a comprehensive email including information and tools to progress with his request for an NHS prescription.
As he battles for a free prescription, Ryan is sharing his story with fellow patients who are unable to access cannabis legally or at an affordable price.
He is building a strong following on Reddit, a popular platform amongst medical cannabis patients, where he shares updates about his correspondence with government bodies.
“I think I have surprised some of the community as to just how far I’ve gotten with my correspondence with the likes of MHRA.
“And it’s not all about me; I’m doing this for all the other people who have reached out to me in similar circumstances, and I’d like to represent all of them in trying to get the help we are all looking for.
“Choosing between life-changing medication or paying the bills is extremely difficult.”
As his funds begin to run out, Ryan is unsure how he will be able to continue paying for his cannabis prescription.
“In the second week of May, I will run out of medicine; I will have no flower in the house,” Ryan says.
“I have my original prescription here in preparation and that’s pretty hard to swallow.
“I think if I have to go back to pharmaceutical treatment it will be very hard mentally to know that I’ll be reverting back to a useless husband and terrible father to my five amazing children.
“We will all lose in this scenario and if I have to revert back to my pharmaceutical medication, I wouldn’t want to live that way again.”
Ryan has set up a JustGiving page to help contribute towards payments for his next prescription.
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