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“Treat us as patients, not criminals” says cannabis campaigner

Long-time medical cannabis patient and campaigner, George Hutchings, is still forced to break the law



George Hutchings has been campaigning for NHS access to medical cannabis for almost a decade.
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George Hutchings has been campaigning for NHS access to medical cannabis for almost a decade, after it transformed his quality of life following his diagnosis of a rare, debilitating condition. 

Eight years ago, George Hutchings travelled from his home on the Isle of Wight to Holland in an attempt to collect medical cannabis, which he was using to manage the symptoms of Charcot-Marie Tooth disease (CMT) type two.

CMT is a progressive condition, caused by damage to the peripheral nerve. It causes gradual muscle wastage and severe neuropathic pain, among other symptoms.

There is no cure for CMT, and George was prescribed a range of medication to help him manage the pain, including opioids, muscle relaxants and antidepressants. The only thing that helped was Tramadol, but it turned him into a “zombie”.

“After eight tablets a day I was just a wreck, my moods would change, it was horrible,” he says.

After searching for alternative treatments online, George came across cannabis. It completely transformed his quality of life.

“It’s brilliant, it’s a wonder drug,” George says to the camera, in Forbidden Medicine, a film that was made to document his journey at the time.

Cannabis campaigner George Hutchings.

“It helps with the cramps in my muscles, the cramps in my hamstrings, it helps with my diet, it helps me sleep at night, it helps me with my depression. I find it more beneficial than any of the tablets that I’m prescribed that my doctors want me to take.”

George collected his medicine from a pharmacy in Holland and declared it at customs in Southampton Airport. But despite him having a prescription, the cannabis was confiscated and returned home empty handed. 

This was just one attempt George made during this period, to highlight the plight of patients who relied on cannabis for a range of symptoms and conditions, but were still treated as criminals.

Through his supportive MP, he attended meetings with politicians in Westminster and even carried out a judicial review against the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, after his application for an import/export licence was refused. 

George has always campaigned for medical cannabis to be available through the NHS. 

“I’ve always argued that it should be a health issue and not a home office issue,” he says now.

“It should always be in the doctor’s hands, especially when someone has a diagnosed condition. I’ve always wanted to be able to go down to my local pharmacy and get it.”

CMT is genetic, so George had lived with it all his life, but wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 45. As a recreational cannabis user since his teens, he credits this for preventing the condition progressing for so long.

Eight years on, his symptoms have spread up his legs, and he’s noticing signs of muscle wastage in his arms too. He has to wear braces when he walks to stop his feet dropping and he struggles to lift things.

In the time since he stepped back from campaigning, medical cannabis has been legalised in the UK, although it’s only available through private clinics, with just three prescriptions having been issued on the NHS.

Despite having explored the option of a private prescription, George is still accessing his medication from the illegal market.

“Whether I have a prescription or not, I still use cannabis as a medicine, I still use that for my pain relief,” he says.

“If I ever get caught, that’s my argument in the courts.”

George continues: “I only use cannabis now, I don’t take a single tablet, except if I’m in really bad pain, I might push the boat out and take a couple of paracetamol.

“I can get up now. I’m up at 8.30 am, showered, cleaning up the house, doing a load of washing – my carer tells me to slow down, but it gives me a better quality of life. I can get out and about and people say to me that I look so much healthier.”

As well as the pain and physical symptoms, George says cannabis helps him massively with the mental impact of living with a chronic disability. 

“It does get me down,” he admits.

“I’ve got to wear these braces and my legs are so skinny it’s unbelievable, so if I wear shorts in summer I sometimes hear people snicker and laugh and it gets into my head. When I’m wearing trousers, people move out of the way because they think I’m drunk.

“Sometimes if I can’t do something, I’ll start to feel anxious thinking, ‘what’s going to happen in six months’ time?’ Cannabis makes it easier to tell myself – ‘just cross that bridge when you come to it’.”

George’s neurologist is open to the fact that cannabis is helping him, but he says his hands are tied when it comes to writing him an NHS prescription.

He was prescribed Sativex, a cannabis-based spray that is approved for spasticity associated with MS, but George found the dosage didn’t help him throughout the day and it wasn’t fast-acting enough when the muscle cramps came on. 

“At one point my doctor told me that the cost of my prescription tablets, as well as the Sativex, works out to £10,000 a month,” says George.

“That’s costing the NHS £120,000 pounds a year. And that’s just me. There’s millions of other patients in the UK who could benefit from cannabis.”

George’s trip to Holland is not the only run-in with the law he’s had since using medical cannabis. While he isn’t phased by it, he worries what the consequences could be for his full-time carer, or his living arrangements, which are provided by a local Housing Association, if it was to happen again. 

“The police are only there to do a job, it’s the government who makes the laws and they need to treat us as patients and not criminals,” he says.

While he doesn’t actively campaign anymore, George is still hopeful that he’ll be able to pick up his medicine from his local pharmacy in the not too distant future. 

“It’s my body,” George adds.

“It’s my right as a human to consume a medicine that works for me.”

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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