Over the past 25 years, Lezley and Mark Gibson have supplied £500,000 worth of cannabis-infused chocolate free of charge to MS patients across the country. Having faced prosecution five times, they are now both benefitting from a legal medical cannabis prescription.
In 1985, at the age of 21, Lezley Gibson was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Her doctors told her that within five years she would be incontinent and in a wheelchair. Thirty six years later, Lezley is neither – and she believes she has cannabis to thank.
“Everything that I’d ever seen about MS was very gloomy”, Lezley said.
“I was destroyed when I was told about the diagnosis.”
At the time, Lezley was in the midst of starting a business, having just opened her own hair salon.
“I had big plans for myself, but then halfway through opening my own salon, I was diagnosed with MS and that was my career over. It’s very difficult to cut hair when you’re shaky and you can’t walk properly,” she said.
“It was a very hard time for me; I found it very difficult. I was your typical 21-year-old. I was into clothes and makeup, I was a hairdresser and I loved people and dancing. But that was the end of that.”
A year after her diagnosis, Lezley met her now-husband, Mark. As a recreational user at the time, Mark introduced Lezley to cannabis and she said the effect it had on her condition was “miraculous”.
“I had never really come across cannabis before, but I noticed when I was with Mark and his friends that I felt an awful lot better, not just because of the relationship but because I was consuming cannabis,” Lezley recalled.
Prior to taking cannabis, Lezley’s body felt tense and was prone to spasms.
“I never felt very comfortable,” she said.
“My body never really worked properly. But I noticed with the cannabis in my system, my body was calmer, my spasms disappeared and all the other little things faded into insignificance.”
The pain and nausea that she experienced on a daily basis began to fade as well. Meanwhile, her eyesight and speech, which she had begun to lose over the past few years, improved.
At the time, in the mid-1980s there was very little information about cannabis as a therapeutic drug, but Lezley was finding that consuming the plant was having a much more positive effect on her condition than the medications prescribed by her doctors.
“I’m not a fan of drugs of any description… they’re far too strong,” Lezley said.
“They put me on steroids, which made me double in weight and grow a beard, which was fantastic at 21. After that, it absolutely terrified me.
“With everything they offered me, they said ‘it might make you worse’, which wasn’t very appealing. But with cannabis, there weren’t any of the side effects. It was nothing like what the doctors were offering me.”
She added: “The only side effect I found with cannabis was it made me feel quite nice and there are not many things that do. I have MS so I don’t get to feel nice very often.”
As Lezley continued to benefit from taking cannabis, she decided not to keep it to herself. She wanted to make other people with MS aware of its benefits and how it had improved her condition.
In 1995, she was a guest on the popular BBC One chat show, Kilroy. On the show, she met other people like her, including Claire Hodges, an influential activist who campaigned for the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and later played an important role in GW Pharmaceuticals earning its licence to produce Sativex.
Lezley became good friends with Hodges and soon found herself in a circle of fellow MS-sufferers campaigning for the benefits of cannabis. One of these campaigners was Elizabeth Ivol, who was producing cannabis-infused chocolate from her home in Orkney.
Unfortunately, Ivol was raided by the police and soon lost the ability to continue producing the chocolate as her condition worsened. She asked Lezley and her husband, Mark to take over the operation.
The couple found themselves making cannabis chocolate for hundreds of people with MS. The very real possibility of them being raided by the police rarely left their mind, but they were determined to continue helping patients.
“There was success with the people who used our chocolate and this is why we kept going,” Lezley said.
“In one instance a lady from a nearby village wrote me a letter. She’d been bedridden for four years so her husband came knocking on my door to get some chocolate. Within a week of her using the chocolate, she was taking her grandchildren to the park and sewing curtains. It was like a miracle.”
Over a two year period, Mark and Lezley supplied 33,000 bars of THC chocolate, free of charge to MS patients across the country.
But such a large operation was difficult to conceal from the local police and the couple were raided three times between 1995 and 2003.
“I have a daughter and my poor daughter has witnessed all of this since it began,” Lezley said.
“It was a difficult time. When I did the school run you had all the women standing in little groups and it was definitely them and me. A lot of people thought I was just a ‘druggie’ which I can assure you I am not.
She added: “Even members of my own family had an opinion, but I had to do what I had to do – I had to be well and that was how I was well. If people didn’t believe me then that was their fault, not mine.”
In 2003, a police raid resulted in them being charged with conspiracy to supply £500,000 worth of the illicit chocolate.
It wasn’t their first run-in with the law. In 1999, Lezley had been charged with possession for carrying a small amount of cannabis flower. She successfully pleaded not guilty, arguing that using cannabis prevented an MS attack, with the jury accepting her argument.
This time, they weren’t so lucky.
The judge agreed that what they were running was an ‘altruistic enterprise’ with little to no money made during their time supplying cannabis to MS patients.
But unfortunately, the jury found them guilty and the couple along with a collaborator, Marcus Davies, were sentenced to 18 months in prison which was then suspended for two years due to Lezley’s condition and Mark’s responsibility as her primary carer.
Lezley and Mark kept their heads down for the next 15 years, but after the police were informed of the couple’s cannabis consumption, their home was raided once more in 2019.
The police only found three bars of cannabis chocolate for Lezley’s own personal use, but a discovery of Mark’s modest-sized grow room set off another court case.
In between being charged and appearing in court, Lezley became one of the first patients in the UK to receive a medical cannabis prescription, which Mark believes prompted the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to rethink their position.
Although Lezley and Mark both freely admitted possession and production of cannabis, the CPS decided not to offer any evidence and the couple were found not guilty in January 2020, a year after being arrested.
“To be found not guilty when you’re not denying any of the facts and you clearly are guilty in the eyes of the law, that’s a real seismic shift,” Mark added.
“We were both prepared to go to court, run it to the jury and stick to our principles and our staunch refusal to plead guilty. However tiring it is, sometimes you just have to stick to your guns and say you’re not going to bend.
“We did absolutely nothing wrong but treat our illnesses with an herbal remedy.”
Mark and Lezley both have a legal medical prescription now and although they believe things are headed in the right direction, they remain critical of a system that shuts many people out.
Mark continued: “What we’ve got now is what I would call economic legislation. Those who can afford it can have it, and those that can’t afford it can’t have it and that’s wrong.
“How is it fair to prosecute somebody around the corner who is medicating for an ailment and bought the cannabis illegally because they can’t afford the consultancy fee and prescription?”
Emigration: “I tried cannabis again and I noticed that I was in less pain when I took it.”
In a new series, we speak to Irish cannabis patients about their decision to emigrate in search of easier, safer cannabis access.
In a new series, Cannabis Health News talks to people who have experienced emigration in search of safe, legal cannabis access.
Our 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. However, there is another side to emigration: the potential for return.
What happens once you are a medical cannabis patient in another country and need to travel home?
The returning Irish from emigration in the past few years has hit record numbers. As people settle into life away from home, it gets harder to return. Travel options have never been easier with several flights to and from Ireland daily from all over the country, ferry options and failing that, zoom calls are a vast improvement on Skype.
COVID lockdowns meant that it’s been a difficult year for travel. Families who have experienced emigration may not have seen in their families since the beginning of the crisis. Now thanks to vaccines, travel is starting to become a possibility again.
This leaves medical cannabis patients in a confusing situation. What do you do if you have a prescription in one country yet need to go to another?
This is the situation *Joe is in. This is not his real name but he has asked to remain anonymous due to the persisting negative attitudes towards cannabis which he is prescribed for debilitating arthritis.
“I have since the age of 14 suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. I also suffer from sciatica. I played rugby six days a week for my school, worked on the family farm and lived a full and normal life. My body then changed and while initially my shoulders were affected but then my knees. It felt like someone was trying to tear my arms from their sockets and that I had broken glass in my knees. That was 36 years ago.”
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a person’s joints. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common forms of the condition. It can start when a person is between 40 and 50 years old although it also affects children and teenagers.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system targets affected joints causing pain and swelling. The outer covering of the joint is the first place to be affected before it spreads across the joint leading to further swelling and a change in shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down. People with rheumatoid arthritis may also develop problems with other tissues and organs.
The Irish Children’s Arthritis Network (iCAN) estimates there are over one thousand children and teenagers currently diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
Emigration in Ireland soared in the 1980s as a result of a harsh recession and lack of jobs. It is estimated that during the ten years of the 1980s, 206,000 more people left Ireland. Like a lot of Irish teenagers unable to find work and looking to leave home, Joe decided to leave Ireland for the UK. While working on a building site, he encountered other workers using cannabis.
“Although I had my condition to contend with it, my symptoms were at their worst in autumn and winter and I went to the UK in the summer to work on building sites (I had no idea my short visit would last 33 years and counting.”
“I was brought up in Ireland with typical conservative social values. Many fellow workers on site were smoking cannabis but I had no interest and indeed felt it was both inherently morally wrong as well as being illegal.”
“For months my fellow workers would say to try some. I relented when we were out together one night as I had a few drinks so my guard was down. I smoked some cannabis. I was violently ill. I did not know that smoking cannabis with drink would have such an immediate and obvious effect.”
Emigration, cannabis and pain
Joe began to feel more pain as winter began and his joints reacted to the cold. Despite his illness the first time, he tried cannabis again and noticed an effect on his pain levels. His quality of life began to improve and he started to make positive changes.
“I tried cannabis again a few weeks later and by this time the winter was in full flow and my bones were aching. I noticed that I was in less pain when I took it. I prayed for guidance on the issue and felt it was not a sin for me to use cannabis because it was helping to alleviate my symptoms.”
“I then started to use cannabis more frequently. When I reached 19, I no longer needed to take my Voltarol Retard prescription and I was able to cancel an appointment for gold injections. As my condition had relented I was able to reengage with my passion for sport and would swim a mile per day, cycle to and from work and work as a scaffolder during the day.”
“I studied A levels at night school. I returned to studies as I felt if my condition worsened I would not be able to engage in physical labour and I also had a calling to be a lawyer. Anyone who has handled scaffolding tube on a cold winters day will also understand why I felt a move indoors could be a welcome change.”
Joe did well enough in his A levels to gain a place to study law at university. He qualified as a solicitor and worked at one of the top regional practices in the country. He had the honour of meeting Irish President Mary McAleese on one of her trips to Manchester. He credits being able to live such a full life to the benefits of cannabis.
Breaking the law
However, he was starting to worry about what could happen if his use was to become public knowledge. Especially as someone working in law.
“Cannabis had managed my condition so effectively that I was able to play football for the corporate team and had no outwards signs which could not be dismissed as being down to simple stiffness. I was concerned however that should my use of cannabis become public knowledge my career would be brought to an abrupt end.
“I was leading a double life – cannabis at the time was dismissed as having no medical use and I was afraid no-one would believe me if I said I was taking it for my arthritis.”
Joe stopped using cannabis for three years as he became fed up with breaking the law. He had also noticed attempts to change the law in regards to medical cannabis and wanted to see if he could access it legally. But his symptoms flared up as a result of him stopping his treatment.
“During my cannabis break however my arthritis flared up with a vengeance. Although now prescribed methotrexate, sulfasalazine and naproxen. During my near 30 year use of cannabis prior to this point, I needed no other drugs. Significant bone erosion occurred in this 3 year period.”
“My hands and feet were badly affected and I was unable to form a fist with either hand for about 2 years. I had to stop playing classic guitar. In addition to studying law, I also studied music and played guitar in ensembles and gave performances with others in my spare time so losing the ability to play was quite hard to take”
Joe was delighted when his prescription for cannabis was approved. After taking it for about a year, he found his condition far more under control and began to come off some of the drugs he had been prescribed. He was also able to play the guitar again.
One of the biggest things, he notes, is the feeling of being able to access his medication responsibly and not break the law.
“Cannabis, for me, does have limitations. Once I take it, I won’t drive for the rest of the day. It can give me mood swings although nothing too extreme. I can be grumpier in the mornings. I am mindful that all drugs have their side effect. I am losing my hair due to methotrexate which gives me a number of bladder issues as well as nausea.”
Emigration and settling
Although Joe is happily settled in the UK with no plans to move home, he still has family in Ireland who he would like to visit. This presents him with an issue, how to pack his prescription?
Going without cannabis while abroad can result in a lot of pain as Joe discovered when he stopped taking it. However, bringing it with him can result in having to again break the law. The other alternative is accessing the black market which is not safe for patients.
“My elderly parents live in Ireland and I would love to visit them. Ireland’s policy on drugs is different to that of the UK. There is nothing unusual about this as individuals states have their own laws. The UN passed the psychoactive Substances Convention in 1971. The Convention enables international travellers to bring their medication with them to other jurisdictions, even though they have different drug policies. Ireland is a signatory to this convention. The Irish State also supplies details of who to write to seek prior approval for the carriage of controlled drugs.”
Joe has started an email and letter campaign of writing for help. He is not the only Irish person in the UK who has experienced emigration and wants to travel home. He encourages others to get involved.
“I have on many occasions asked both the relevant Secretary for Health and the Minister for Health for permission to travel to Ireland with my cannabis prescription and for clarification of Ireland’s drug policy for tourists and have pointed out the large numbers of people who could be affected. It’s not just persons prescribed cannabis if Customs is going to seize all controlled drugs.”
“Although nearly 6 months have passed, I am yet to receive either a formal approval or rejection of my request to travel home. In the meantime, my parents are of course getting older as indeed am I.”
There are also other concerns about using cannabis medicine while in another country besides emigrating.
Joe cautions: “To anyone who is thinking of just leaving their cannabis medication at home in the UK and then driving in Ireland, please bear in mind that in addition to dealing with withdrawal symptoms you may also fail a roadside drugs test.”
“It’s not at all clear that you will have a medical defence to a drug driving charge in Ireland. Thus if you want to travel lawfully with a car, consider not taking your cannabis prescription for sufficient time to pass a drug driving test, but obviously, this is impractical for sick people who are only granted a prescription for cannabis where other medicines haven’t worked.”
Joe advises that those thinking of travelling to Ireland with their prescriptions for CBMP should seek approval for their medication. This can be done by writing to the Controlled Drugs Unit in Dublin.
CBD and gaming: Could CBD help you level up?
When it comes to gaming, could CBD give you a competitive edge? Always Pure Organics’ Sally Dempster explores the benefits.
Always Pure Organics’ Sally Dempster explores the CBD trend within gaming.
The gaming community is growing exponentially, from people playing casually with friends to professional esports competitors, all of whom are contributing to the phenomenal 1.8 billion (US) dollar industry. Especially with the lockdown conditions of Covid-19, the gaming industry has seen a huge surge in revenue and time spent video gaming- increasing by double digits in all regions. The increased amount of time spent gaming can sometimes lead to health problems; frequent players often report physical aches and pains, altered sleep cycles, stress and anxiety. Many of these health problems can be caused by the prolonged periods of time spent at a console or in front of a screen.
Physical aches and pains from gaming can manifest themselves in a variety of forms including carpal tunnel syndrome, gamer’s thumb, and tennis elbow. Avid gamers can sometimes fall prone to these problems which cause inflamed muscles, nerves, or tendons due to overuse.
Whilst cannabidiol (CBD) cannot cure the underlying damage caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, gamer’s thumb or tennis elbow, it may help to reduce overall swelling and it has been shown in studies to relieve inflammation. Research on CBD has also shown that the Cannabis sativa extract may, in some cases, be beneficial as a method of pain relief. Using CBD as a form of pain management could help to relieve pain from gaming conditions, enabling players to be more stress-free and relaxed throughout the natural healing process. It is important to note that using CBD as a method of pain management for acute pain will not result in instant healing; users should be aware that any decrease in pain does not equate to a fully healed injury.
Gaming and scientific debates
There are ongoing scientific debates as to whether video games induce stress or whether they help to manage and reduce it. The answer to this debate perhaps depends on the level of investment that the player has in the game. Players who spend less time gaming or who only play for recreational and social purposes, for example, are less likely to get stressed during play compared to high stakes players or career gamers.
Evidence points towards CBD having a calming effect on the central nervous system. Taking CBD before gaming may help pre-emptively mitigate stressful feelings, this is due to the fact that CBD is a neurotransmitter that will bind to receptors in the brain. These bindings displace any anxiety-inducing neurotransmitters and stop them from binding to the receptor, which helps to restore equilibrium in the brain.
A recent study determined that video games do affect the stress system, in addition to the cognitive system of humans depending on the game style. Fear inciting games, which feature genres such as, survival, action, and psychological horror is more prone to elicit feelings of stress and tension. The research also demonstrated that the type and level of stress triggered in the players depend on the game style (Aliyari et al., 2021).
Esport competitions have closely monitored regulations regarding doping. Competitions adhere to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances; players found breaking these regulations could find themselves (and their teammates) banned from competing. Cannabidiol is the only cannabinoid compound found in cannabis permitted in esport competitions.
Although WADA has removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances it is still advised that competitors using the extract choose CBD products carefully as some broad-spectrum products contain low levels of THC which is still a banned substance in esports competitions.
As the number of gamers increases and the industry grows, player gaming injuries will become more prevalent; extracts such as CBD may prove useful in mitigating these issues. Cannabidiol could, in some cases, also aid with the reduction of stress created when playing video games. Especially at high levels of competitive esports, there is an intense amount of pressure on the players to perform; now that WADA has approved CBD for use in competitions it may be able to minimise players’ feelings of stress and anxiety while gaming.
CBD may reduce side effects associated with anti-seizure medications.
Could CBD help with the side effects of anti-seizure medications for people with epilepsy?
A study published in the journal, Epilepsy and Behaviour examined CBD’s potential impact on anti-seizure medications for people with epilepsy.
There are 600,0000 people living with Epilepsy in the UK. It’s one of the most common nervous system disorders affecting people of all ages. It’s a neurological condition that can result in seizures. Treatment for epilepsy can include anti-seizure medication, diet therapy such as the ketogenic diet and surgery.
The side effects of medication can include dizziness, nausea, headaches, fatigue, vertigo and blurred vision.
There are medications such as Epidolex prescribed for rare seizure disorders such as Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. However, it is not approved for other forms of epilepsy. There are around 60 different types of seizures and it is possible to have more than one type. Seizures can vary depending on where in the brain they are happening.
They analysed data collected between April 2016 and July 2020 from 418 patients. The participants included 71 adults with epilepsy who used artisanal CBD products for medicinal purposes and 209 who were caregivers of children or adults who also used artisanal CBD. The control group of 29 adults with epilepsy who were considering CBD and 109 caregivers who were interested in it for dependent children or adults.
Participants were asked to fill in a survey and answer questions about their quality of life, anxiety, depression and sleep. They were also given follow up surveys every three months for over a year.
In comparison with the control group, artisanal CBD users reported 13 percent lower epilepsy medication-related adverse effects. They also had 21 percent greater psychological health satisfaction at the beginning of the study.
Their anxiety was recorded as being 19 percent lower and depression was 17 percent. Both the adult and youth groups reported better quality sleep than the control group.
The caregivers of patients currently using CBD reported 13 percent less stress and burden in comparison with the control group. Patients in the control group who started using artisanal CBD reported improvements in their physical and psychological health. They also self-recorded reductions in anxiety and depression.
Participants were asked to record possible adverse effects related to their CBD use. Among all of the participants, 79 percent did not report any effects.
Of the remaining participants, 11 percent reported potential drowsiness, 4 percent said their symptoms may have gotten worse, 3 percent had concerns about the legality and 4 percent worried about the cost of the profits.
The researchers reported that further research is needed to understand how the findings could be applied to patients. They also stated that patients should consult with their doctor before trying CBD products.
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