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The men in mental health: “I felt a sensation and realised this is what happiness feels like”

In a new series marking Men’s Mental Health Month, we speak to men about cannabis, caring and what needs to change.

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For men’s mental health awareness month, Cannabis Health speaks to fathers, patients and carers about their experiences, with a focus on what needs to change.

In the second of our series, we meet medical cannabis patient, Lewis Morgan. Lewis has PTSD as well as chronic pain caused by injuries he sustained twelve years ago.

Read the first part of our men and mental health series here

Talking about mental health

Mental health can be a difficult topic for anyone to talk about. However, when it comes to reaching out for help, men seem to struggle more than most. The statistics for men’s health show that it does appear to be more difficult for men to open up about how they are feeling.

In a YouGov poll which surveyed 2111 adults in 2009 before comparing to figures from a survey taken again in 2019. The results revealed that two in five men report feeling low in an increase of 37 per cent since 2009. It also showed that men aged 45 to 49 have the highest age-specific suicide rate.

Men also struggle when accessing help. The same survey from YouGov revealed that 10 per cent of male participants said that they didn’t seek help as they feared being told they had a mental illness. The reasons for not seeking help may be complex such as believing in traditional masculine values such as remaining stoic or being dependable. They may also see discussing mental health issues as a ‘weakness.’

Mental health: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clincs featuring a doctor in a white lab coat

Lewis’s story

Speaking with Cannabis Health News, Lewis Morgan explains how he came to be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD). He originally experienced a bleed on the brain but an attack four years later, post-recovery, left him with brain injuries.

“When I was at university, I had a small bleed on my brain which took me a while to get over. It took a while for my concentration and reading to come back. I also had flickers in my vision intermittently. I managed to get through my degree but I did need a year out,” he said.

“I felt like I was starting to recover but then shortly after that, I went to work in a radio station one night then I woke up the next day in the hospital. I had been attacked on a night out where someone knocked me out then stood on my head several times. I had severe facial injuries too.”

Lewis feels that there were not many checks into how he was coping with the mental side of his injuries such as the potential for developing PTSD or depression. Six months later, he had begun to develop a lot of pain and was also diagnosed with PTSD.

“I got sent back to the hospital six months later and they determined then that I had a brain injury. I developed PTSD along with a lot of pain which was not in the injury sites but in locations where it shouldn’t have been. I was eventually diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).”

He explained: “Later on I started to experience chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and all sorts of seizures. I have a functional neurological disorder that basically causes seizures, pain, psychological problems. My brain translates emotion as physical symptoms which is a nightmare because there is nothing you can do about it.”

Lewis highlighted that his many different diagnoses mean that he doesn’t know what symptoms correlate with different conditions but that PTSD has been constant throughout.

Mental health: Two heads in different colours to highlight hidden mental health. One head is dark while the other is light against an orange background

Mental Health and PTSD

PTSD is a mental health condition caused by a traumatic experience. Those with PTSD can often relive the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability or guilt. They may also struggle with insomnia.

He said: “I get these sensations in my chest like spikes of adrenaline. I put the telly on to watch the news then I’m ranting at the telly like a madman. Then I realise I haven’t had any medicine today so I get on the medical cannabis and thankfully that brings me back to being a civilised human being.”

“It’s gone so long untreated and unmedicated that I’ve been keeping myself isolated to avoid making it someone else’s problem. It feels bad enough as it is without extra guilt or anything from erupting when I’m out. I tend to get spikes of rage which is fight or flight from adrenaline surging through my body.”

Lewis explained that the fight or flight mode is a permanent state for him. It helps him to avoid what he described as ‘pure misery’ afterwards.

Often people with PTSD, in particular veterans, find that their stress and anxiety levels are heightened. Over time, this can lead to problems with heart disease or blood pressure.

In a study on veterans, researchers took 14 patients with PTSD and 14 without to determine the effect that it had on the body. They discovered that the patients with PTSD had higher levels of adrenaline and less control over their heart rate due to blood pressure changes.

Lewis outlined how medical cannabis helps him to not just control his PTSD symptoms but to feel happiness.

He said: “Thankfully medical cannabis is helping. If I have it in time then it seems to prevent me from getting into a rut where everything is triggering me. As winters coming, I’m finding a lot of symptoms are getting worse and it’s more of a battle to get control with that.”

He added: “It seems to make me feel happy. Sometimes I get a little chuckle and it’s really sad. I realised the first time that this happened, I felt a sensation and realised this is what happiness feels like. It’s so alien to me even though I’ve been to places since my injuries where I’ve had fun. It dawned on me that I never actually had that feeling of happiness.”

Lewis stressed that there is not much support from a mental health perspective. He has been trying to get help for his PTSD but struggling to access services. He is grateful for the help he has had from cannabis.

“I don’t get much support and I don’t see many people. I’ve been trying to get help with PTSD and not really having any help whatsoever. The only thing I’ve had to turn to has been cannabis. I didn’t realise it would help so much. It’s helped my physical symptoms and the PTSD too,” he said.

“I was struggling not to have a seizure last night because it’s getting damp. I was rigid and spasm a lot but [cannabis] makes it bearable even in those times. It is a shame it has taken so long to access it.”

Cannabis and mental health

Lewis is thankful that Project Twenty21 has made it easier for patients to access cannabis due to subsidising the costs. Now that he has cannabis, he has begun to reduce the number of prescription drugs that he was given as he feels there are negative side effects to some of them.

When it comes to speaking to other male patients or groups, he has found it difficult to stay in touch over the 12 years since he has been injured.

“I’ve been cut off for a really long time because I’ve been ill so long. Even the people that you know quite well, not many of them last twelve years. When you are too ill to be proactive in staying in touch with people then you do lose touch eventually. Then when it comes to meeting new people, it’s hard because you are unable to work and you stay at home,” he said.

Lewis keeps himself entertained by learning the guitar. He is also learning to speak Spanish with the language app, Duolingo.

Mental Health: A photo of Lewis Morgan and his dog, Biggie

“If I have enough comfort from my medication then I can do Duolingo. I’ve managed to learn a lot of Spanish there which is surprising because of my injuries. My memory doesn’t really work but I can somehow learn music and play on instinct. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so sensitive and my nerves had been so horrifically activated.”

This time of year is difficult for Lewis as it’s near the anniversary of his injury. He finds that the autumn season can almost trigger an internal remainder of the event. He struggles with physical flashbacks, nightmares and finds that he becomes hyper-vigilant. He doesn’t have any mental health medication from his GP and relies solely on cannabis.

Lewis has recently adopted a dog which helps to keep him company. Biggie, a chihuahua is a rescue pet that Lewis took in to help a local shelter. Originally named Bruiser, he felt that Biggie was a better fit given the small dog’s attempts to fight larger dogs. He highlighted that they are both helping each other to get over their trauma.

“I got him a month ago as a rescue. I think he has got as much trauma as me and my symptoms but I’m trying to keep him calm and I take him out. I took him in to help the charity but I couldn’t let him go after that.”

Read the first part of our series on men’s mental health here

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New research refutes ‘gateway drug’ fears over cannabis legalisation

Young adults consumed less alcohol, cigarettes and other substances following cannabis legalisation in Washington State.

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New research refutes cannabis as 'gateway drug' theory
Adult-use cannabis has been legal in Washington State since 2012

Young adults consume less alcohol, cigarettes and other substances following cannabis legalisation, according to a new study.

A paper published earlier this month by researchers at the University of Washington, found that young people consumed less alcohol, nicotine, and non-prescribed pain medication, after cannabis was legalised for adult-use. 

Researchers assessed trends in alcohol, nicotine, and non-prescribed pain reliever use among a cohort of over 12,500 young adults (ages 18 to 25) in Washington State following legalisation in 2012.

Contrary to concerns about the detrimental effects on wider society, according to the study, “the implementation of legalised non-medical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain reliever misuse.”

The findings show that prevalence of alcohol use, heavy episodic drinking and cigarette use in the past month, as well as prevalence of past-year pain reliever misuse decreased. 

While the prevalence of substance use other than cannabis was “higher among occasional and frequent cannabis users compared to cannabis non-users”, associations between cannabis and pain reliever misuse and heavy episodic drinking “weakened over time”. 

However the team did find that the prevalence of past-month e-cigarette use had increased post-legalisation.

They concluded: “Our findings add to evidence that the legalisation of non-medical cannabis has not led to dramatic increases in the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and non-prescribed opioids.

“The findings indicate that the most critical public health concerns surrounding cannabis legalisation and the evolution of legalised cannabis markets may be specific to cannabis use and related consequences.”

Commenting on the study’s findings, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Real-world data from legalisation states disputes longstanding claims that cannabis is some sort of ‘gateway’ substance. In fact, in many instances, cannabis regulation is associated with the decreased use of other substances, including many prescription medications.”

Cannabis legalisation in the UK

Cannabis legalisation is a hot topic in the UK at the moment, following London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s fact-finding trip to LA last week. He subsequently announced that he would be launching a review panel to explore the possibility of decriminalisation in the UK. 

This has sparked debate among politicians, media personalities and the general public alike. 

While Home Secretary Priti Patel shared her thoughts that cannabis can “ruin communities, tear apart families and destroy lives”, Policing Minister Kit Malthouse described it as an “entry level drug”. 

And even Labour refused to get behind Khan, saying the party “does not support changing the law on drugs.”

But recent polling suggests the politicians may be out of touch with the public. YouGov polls show that more than half of Londoners support the mayor’s proposals. 

Meanwhile a poll last year revealed that 52 per cent of the population either ‘strongly supported’ or  ‘tended to support’ legalisation. 

 

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Medical cannabis in the mainstream – the top headlines this week

Get up to date on the week’s headlines.

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Medical cannabis in the mainstream - the top headlines this week

This week the media has been dominated with responses to Sadiq Khan’s controversial fact-finding mission to LA and plans for cannabis decriminalisation.

Although stories of police raids and cannabis farm busts continue to make up the majority of major cannabis headlines, the mainstream media is increasingly covering new developments in the cannabis space, from policy to patient stories.

Over the past few days, MPs have been responding to Sadiq Khan’s controversial trip to LA cultivators and dispensaries, while the Daily Express reported on a new study about a cannabis-based product aiming to treat chronic pain. Here are the week’s five top cannabis headlines not to miss.

The medical cannabis clinic banner

New study into cannabis for chronic pain

Daily Express spoke to the managing director of LVL Health, Tony Samios, about the company’s feasibility study which explores the effects of a cannabis-based product for chronic pain. The study will use cannabis flower in pre-filled cartridges and aims to build the data and evidence needed to improve patient access on the NHS.

Samios told the Express that the study is set to be a “game-changer in bridging the gap between evidence and making change using a rigorous scientific approach” providing “reliable data that is essentially missing”.

Sadiq Khan’s time would be “better spent focusing on knife and drug crime”, says Patel

Priti Patel made her thoughts on Sadiq Khan’s plan to consider cannabis legalisation in London clear in a Twitter post last week.

“Sadiq Khan’s time would be better spent focusing on knife and drug crime in London. The Mayor has no powers to legalise drugs. They ruin communities, tear apart families and destroy lives,” Patel said in the Tweet.

Her rebuke comes after Sadiq Khan’s recent trip to the US which included a fact-finding mission to LA to understand more about an international evidence-based approach to reducing drug-related harm in the capital. The London mayor also announced the launch of a new London Drugs Commission.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse expressed a similar view to Patel. Last week he told The Sun: “I find it baffling that just last week, the Mayor of London thought it appropriate to stage a photoshoot in a cannabis farm in LA, to reiterate his support for the legalisation of this entry level drug. I profoundly wish he would focus on knife crime and violence taking place in the capital instead.”

Khan initially made his plans clear last year prior to his re-election, saying that he would consider decriminalising cannabis in the capital if he were to be voted in as mayor for a second term.

The Labour party’s response to Khan’s cannabis plan

The likes of Huffington Post, Daily Mail and iNews reported on the Labour party’s response to Sadiq Khan’s plans for cannabis law reform last week.

The party’s stance was made clear in a statement that stated: “Labour does not support changing the law on drugs. Drugs policy is not devolved to mayors and under Labour would continue to be set by national Government.”

HuffPost UK reported that a number of shadow cabinet members were “furious” at Khan’s comments, including Yvette Cooper. “Yvette is furious about it,” a Labour source told HuffPost UK. “People are just rolling their eyes because it definitely is not the official party line.”

Although it goes against his party’s official stance, Khan’s plan reflects data gathered by YouGov which has found that the majority of UK citizens are in support of cannabis legalisation.

Another source told the online outlet: “Sadiq has positioned himself as a progressive mayor on the side of the public prepared to take on the tough questions to genuinely tackle crime rather than pointless posturing that isn’t even popular anyway.”

Meanwhile, iNews reported that Labour MPs “let rip” in a private WhatsApp group. “This is going to go down like a bucket of cold sick in my bit of the suburbs just now… Crime up, police numbers still way below where people think they should be, so Labour is going to have a chat about drugs… Inspired,” said Gareth Thomas, the Shadow International Trade minister.

Not all Labour MPs have responded negatively, however. The Daily Mail reported on Shadow Cabinet minister Ed Miliband’s response to Khan’s plans. Although he highlighted that Khan did not reflect the Party’s position, he said Labour “welcome[s] Sadiq looking at these issues because this debate should carry on”.

“Cannabis ruins lives and legalising it won’t help”

In response to Sadiq Khan’s US visit, journalist and campaigner Louise Perry offered her opinion in an article for the London Evening Standard. While she said she would be “happy” to see possession of small amounts of cannabis made legal, but added that legalising the cannabis industry is “another matter entirely”.

The article is unlikely to sit well with cannabis campaigners and advocates thanks to its comparison between cannabis and tobacco, a focus on the dangers of psychosis and the lack of attention given to studies showing the positive effects of cannabis on health and wellbeing.

“Industries employ lobbyists to disguise the harmful effects of the products they sell,” Perry writes. “This has happened many times before.

“By the early 50s, the scientific evidence was clear: tobacco was killing people. And yet it would be 20 years until warning signs appeared on the side of cigarette packets sold in the UK. This tardiness was the result of lobbying by the tobacco industry, which opposed health authorities every step of the way.”

Patient faces dispute with council over housing

A man living in Norwich who holds a private cannabis prescription says he is facing difficulties finding a new place to live after being told by the city council to disclose his indoor cannabis use to landlords.

As reported by Norwich Evening News, Danny Wilson is prescribed legal cannabis by TMCC Medical Clinic for chronic pain, ADHD and anxiety. Wilson – who is currently on universal credit and personal independence payments due to his condition – pays between £700 and £1,000 per month for his medication.

Mr Wilson said: “I’ve repeatedly told them forcing me to go around approaching landlords and agents this way is causing me trauma but they ignored me.”

Despite never having being in prison, the city council offered him a place at House of Genesis, a rehoming initiative for ex-offenders.

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Medical cannabis in the mainstream – the UK’s top stories

All your cannabis news in one place

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There has been a mix of cannabis-related stories in the media over the past week. In case you missed them, we’ve compiled some of the headlines.

This week, news outlets such as The Guardian and The Telegraph have reported on UK medical cannabis labs, cannabis use for fibromyalgia and a rise in drug-driving cases amongst medical consumers.

Inside one of the UK’s first medical cannabis labs

The Guardian’s Julia Kollewe visited a growing lab owned by Celadon Pharmaceuticals, one of the first cultivation sites to be granted a home office licence to grow high-THC medical cannabis in the UK. The site is based in the West Midlands and grows cannabis predominantly for chronic pain. It is one of the only cannabis cultivators in the country to use an indoor lab rather than greenhouses.

According to The Guardian, Celadon is planning to ramp up production, aiming to grow 10 to 15 tonnes a year and supply up to 50,000 patients. At full capacity, the lab could generate £90m in annual revenues.

Founder James Short said: “I speak to patients on a regular basis who can’t work and are in terrible pain each day, that don’t want to be on opioids. Some are having to pay hundreds of pounds each month for medicinal cannabis. It really does work.”

US research programme studies cannabinoids in ovarian cancer

“Massive injustice” – medical cannabis patients facing driving offences

In a less positive story, The Telegraph reported that medicinal cannabis patients are increasingly being prosecuted for drug driving with arrests reportedly doubling in the last four years.

Those taking cannabis may face a positive result in police roadside testing up to 72 hours after taking the drug. Although studies have shown driving capabilities are not impaired after this length of time, patients still face prosecution.

Since 2016, arrests linked with drug driving have increased by 140 per cent, according to police figures obtained by The Telegraph.

But while medical cannabis patients are at risk of arrest, those taking opiate-based prescription drugs are permitted to drive even if they are over the lawful limit, provided they follow their doctor’s advice.

The Telegraph spoke to one patient, David Dancy, who was being prosecuted for drug driving despite the fact he had taken his prescription 12 hours prior to getting in his car. The 33-year-old said the prosecution is “a massive injustice”.

Fibromyalgia and arthritis patient on how cannabis changed her life

Andrea Wright, a medical cannabis patient from Bristol, spoke to The Guardian about her ongoing battle with psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia. The 39-year-old was diagnosed in 2016, suffering from constant pain and severe lack of sleep. She eventually was forced to leave her job due to her ill health.

“I had to stop work because the pain was too much. It’s been very depressing; I really enjoyed my job. I tried so many different therapies and managed to get my arthritis under control but for fibromyalgia, there isn’t anything, no magical pill,” Wright told The Guardian.

After trying medical cannabis as part of a study run by LVL Health, she found she was able to get her first “proper night’s sleep” since 2012. She is now back at work and now aiming to reduce her reliance on opioid painkillers.

300 campaigners march through streets of Cardiff

Campaigners calling for the legalisation of cannabis in the UK marched through Cardiff city centre this weekend, WalesOnline reported on Saturday (7 May).  This was the first protest to take place in Wales since before the pandemic.

The march was organised by Terry Wakefield, who has been involved in cannabis campaigning since 1999. She told WalesOnline that the stigma surrounding cannabis was pushing the trade further underground.

“Cannabis is my medicine. I suffer complex PTSD and this march might sometimes be the only time I’m outside,” she said. “If I was in a position where I could go to my GP and ask for a prescription I would do.

“If we are able to consume cannabis in the UK then we should have a right to grow our own. The more this stays illegal the more it will be pushed underground and the more gangs and slaves in Britain.”

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