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Emigration: “I would tell people if they are thinking about it, relocate because you will get better access”

In a new series, we speak to Irish cannabis patients about their decision to emigrate in search of easier, safer cannabis access.

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Canna-emigration: a pile of three brown suitcases in a brown room

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

Imagine packing your entire life into boxes and emigrating with your family to a new country just to be able to easily access your medication.

Emigration is sadly nothing new to Ireland. Over the years, thousands have left to access a better life abroad in places such as England, Canada and America. The numbers are staggering with the highest year of emigration recorded as over 54,000 in 2012 at the height of the recession.

While those figures are slowing down due to the growth in the Irish economy post-recession, there remains a steady flow out of the country. Adding to the broad range of reasons for leaving is the state of the Irish medical cannabis system.

There are currently two systems in place: the ministerial license which allows patients to receive their medication from the Netherlands and the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP). The MCAP only considers epilepsy, cancer nausea and multiple sclerosis. There has been widespread criticism that this does not go far enough to recognise the broad spectrum of patients who use cannabis especially chronic pain patients.

Emigration: A woman with blonde hair wearing a large straw hat and a blue dress

Alicia’s Story

Alicia Maher is one of the most high profile cannabis patients in Ireland. She emigrated from Cork to live in Spain for a few months during lockdown but now cannot travel home.

“I went into hospital to have my tonsils removed and there were complications. I ended up having three operations and was in the hospital for three months. While I was in there, I started to bleed from the bowel then they said I had ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. They couldn’t figure out at the time what it was because my colon was so badly damaged.”

“One night when I was in the hospital, my large intestine broke and I had emergency surgery to remove my entire colon. I woke up with a bag on my stomach. When I went to have this removed a few years later, they discovered precancerous cells in my rectum. They needed to remove my rectum immediately which meant the bag on my stomach became permanent.”

Sadly the surgery meant more complications as Alicia developed Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which took years for the wounds to heal. MRSA is a type of bacteria that’s resistant to several widely used antibiotics and is often referred to as a superbug. It can be extremely difficult to treat.

READ MORE  Mum’s urgent plea for daughter’s medical cannabis

“I had to heal from the inside out but it took years. It was the first time I’d ever had pain like that. I eventually found out that my coccyx bone was actually broken. I had to give up work because the pain was just too much. My doctor started me on medication like Tramadol with injections every three months. I developed sciatica where you get pain down your leg and I couldn’t walk at all. They upped the pain medication I was on and added Lyrica and Amitriptyline. I had to wear patches all the time. The side effects were atrocious.”

Alicia found she was sleeping most of the time as a result of the tablets. A fall on her broken coccyx bone sent her to hospital in 2018. The staff treated her as if she was looking for medication rather than being in pain. They refused to even X-ray saying there was no point as they knew it was already broken.

Read more: CBD may reduce side effects associated with anti-seizure medications.

Emigration: A pile of piles, bottles and CBD oil. A dropper lies on its side with yellow oil in it. There is a cannabis leaf on the left side

It was then that Alicia decided to try cannabis.

A family friend in America sent over a vape for her to try. Despite never trying cannabis before, she was surprised that it worked from the very first time. She was determined to reduce the 30 different opioid tablets she was on which took about 6 months. As she detoxed from the pain medication, it was then that she started to think about the issues surrounding access in Ireland.

“I needed to speak to my GP to tell him I had come off half my medication. I was so worried thinking he was going to give out to me but looked at me and said he had seen a difference straight away when I walked in.

He said he would apply for the ministerial licence. However, I needed a pain consultant which I didn’t have as mine had left the HSE. They said they weren’t denying the license but because its chronic pain, they couldn’t do it until I had a consultant.”

This started a series of appeals to get the ministerial license granted. Alicia was eventually given an appointment with a consultant who agreed with her doctor that the cannabis was working for her. It finally came through in May 2020 but there was one huge problem, the COVID crisis had begun.

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Read more: Weight loss study shows THCV and CBDV may help reduce BMI

Emigration: The rooftop view of colourful spanish houses overlooking the sea in the sunshine

Emigration to Spain

By this time, Alicia had moved to Spain and lockdown had begun. Spain had one of the toughest lockdowns in Europe among spiralling cases of COVID. Alicia and her husband had decided to move after a few bad experiences with accessing cannabis illegally in Ireland. They decided to leave their PhDs, families and life at the University of Limerick to move. They initially moved out in November with a view to returning in March.

She had begun to look into the cost of cannabis through her license in Ireland but it was then she discovered that it would EUR€2,500 every three months for her medication.

In Ireland, medical cards can be granted to certain patients to cover the cost of their medication. The cards are means-tested and cover the cost of a patient’s medications. Alicia discovered that there was no coverage on the medical card because it was for chronic pain.

“How was I supposed to pay €10,000 a year for the cannabis prescription because there is no coverage on the medical card? They said if I suffered from epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or vomiting associated with chemotherapy then I would get refunded. The only reason they won’t refund it is because its chronic pain which feels like discrimination based on the condition you have.”

Alicia chose Spain because of the access to the cannabis clubs. The cannabis social clubs are private, non-profit organisations where users can register to access their medication safely. However, during Covid, all the clubs suddenly closed for lockdown.

“It was perfect at the start due to the cannabis clubs but then they closed for three months. I got in touch with a clinic in Madrid and sent them my prescription so they took me on. They knew I was stuck here and had a prescription at home so it was on a discretionary basis. They posted my order down to me every month at a fifth of the price of back home.”

READ MORE  Why changing cannabis medicine could be life-threatening for children with severe epilepsy

Returning home

One of the hardest parts of emigration is the difficulty in returning home once you have established a life in a new city. Each passing year means more roots, connections and ties to your new home. Prescriptions not being recognised and spiralling costs add another layer of difficulty into the mix. The threat of something happening to a loved one during lockdown has been especially difficult for those away from home.

“It’s hard not being able to go home when I want to especially during covid. I was afraid something would happen to someone at home. I contacted the International Narcotics Control Board who are the regulatory people for medicines across the EU for controlled drugs. I said I had an import license to bring cannabis into Ireland and a prescription from my doctor too. I asked if I needed to, could I bring my medication with me? They referred me to the HSE who said absolutely not.”

“I’ve emailed the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly and Frank Feighan over twenty times. I only got a response last week which was identical copy and paste responses from the internet. I was disgusted when I saw the emails. Two different departments and identical emails, that felt insulting. I emailed a five-page letter about my medical history and my family back home. They sent back information which was freely available on the internet.”

Two red Irish passports lying on a wooden floor

So what would Alicia say to anyone thinking about emigration for medical cannabis?

“If someone was waiting in Ireland until pain is added as a qualifying condition, I would tell them not to waste time. I got a call from Gino Kenny, a politician from People Before Profit who said he thinks they may not add it until the end of the pilot scheme for MCAP which isn’t even up and running yet. It could take about five years. He doesn’t think reimbursement is going to happen either.”

“I would just tell people if they are thinking about it, relocate because you will get better access somewhere like here with the cannabis clubs. If it’s for quality of life purposes then there is no question whatsoever.”

Read more: New patients network aims to fix issues with access and safety

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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Welsh: 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.”

READ MORE  Cannabis substitution reduces opioid use in patients with chronic pain

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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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.

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

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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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.

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Emigration: A stack of suitcases against a window revealing a sunset and a plane

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?

Joe’s story

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 return

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.

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“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: A red Irish passport sitting on a black bag

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.

READ MORE  Cannabis substitution reduces opioid use in patients with chronic pain

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: two hands packing a suitcase with clothes ready to travel

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?

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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.”

Seeking approval

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.

Catch up on part two: Adrienne’s story in our series on medical cannabis and emigration.

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