Update (26th July 2018): Doctors will be able to legally prescribe medical cannabis to patients with "exceptional medical need" by the autumn, government announced today. "I am delighted that the government are now acknowledging that cannabis has medicinal value. We still have a long way to go but this is certainly progress," said Karen Gray, whose petition on the issue garnered more than 241k signatures. Other forms of cannabis will remain illegal.
Original story (22nd June 2018): This week the government announced a review into the medical use of marijuana, which is currently a class B drug and illegal in the UK. The review follows the high-profile case of Billy Caldwell, a 12-year-old boy with epilepsy who was banned from accessing the marijuana oil that his family says controls his life-threatening seizures. His mother Charlotte tried to bring the oil back from Canada, where it is legal for medical purposes (and as of this week, legal for recreational purposes too), but it was confiscated at Heathrow Airport.
Billy’s case is just the latest to trigger public debate about the prohibition of marijuana for health conditions in the UK, which campaigners have long argued is illogical and inhumane. The drug contains cannabidiol (CBD), which advocates have hailed as a "miracle" cure for conditions ranging from epilepsy to depression, arthritis, diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS). These claims are being studied by scientists.
Professor David Nutt, a former UK chief drug policy adviser who now helps run the organisation DrugScience, argued this week that people will die unless medical marijuana is legalised. Billy "would be dead if [his mother] didn’t break the law," he told Left Foot Forward, adding that without funding for large-scale trials, “It would be 10 years [before we get results] – another 100 kids will be dead."
It’s a longstanding abuse of the sick and disabled that they are prevented from legal access to marijuana as medicine
Peter Reynolds, Clear
Peter Reynolds, president of the marijuana law reform lobby group Clear, describes the prohibition of medical marijuana for people who need it as "a national scandal". aIt’s a longstanding abuse of the sick and disabled that they are prevented from legal access to marijuana as medicine," he told Refinery29 UK. Medical marijuana is legal in many countries, including much of the US, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, yet it remains illegal in the UK. However, more than 25,000 people recently signed a petition calling for legalisation and the government review suggests change could soon be afoot.
One woman who says her health would benefit from the legalisation of medical cannabis is 32-year-old Sara Elizabeth from Glasgow, who has had MS, a lifelong condition affecting the brain and/or spinal cord, for 10 year. She has been taking cannabis for the last five years, in oil form, in teabags and most recently with a vape. Here, she makes the case for legalising medical marijuana for those who need it. The views expressed are her own.
The symptoms of MS vary from person to person, but for me it's my balance, eyesight and mood that are most affected. It can make you depressed and affect your mood because of the impact on your brain and spinal cord. Having marijuana every day levels me out and if I miss it for a couple of days I notice the difference. The most common way I do it now is by using my vape because it can cancel out the smell if I mix it with fruity normal stuff. I worry that people will frown upon the smell of marijuana if I smoke it openly in public. Oil under the tongue is a wonderful way to do it as well, because you don't have to worry about the smell or rolling a joint.
I’ve come off a lot of medication and I don't take any pain medication at all now, it’s purely marijuana that I take. I usually take two drops on my tongue in the morning and at nighttime I usually have a joint or I have my vape. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil [which has been allowed for medicinal purposes in the UK since 2016] takes you over, so in between that I'll have an infused tea, but I wouldn't classify myself as a pothead. I use it when I need it, it keeps my symptoms at bay. To be able to come off pain medication is awesome because I've suffered really badly from nerve pain in my legs for at least 10 years and no matter what pills they put me on, they had no effect.
I’m a single mother, I work, I make money, I do charity work. I'm a professional person, I'm not sitting around getting stoned all day.
It was my own idea to start taking it. I did a lot of research into it. I've got a lot of friends in Canada and America with MS and they mentioned it to me. They have it medically and it makes such a difference for them so I thought, 'I've tried everything else so I might as well try this'. I've not looked back since. I’ve been on it for more than five years and now that I've come off my pain medication I no longer have any of the horrible side-effects that pills can give you, like dry mouth, bladder problems, slurred speech and anxiety. When I take it I just feel very calm. My pain doesn't 100% go away but it’s very manageable. My mood is better, physically I’m less sore and I can now go to the gym every morning. I’m a single mother, I work, I make money, I do charity work. I'm a professional person, I'm not sitting around getting stoned all day.
The hypocrisy is disgusting. The UK is scared to legalise it, but I really wish it would.
Ten years ago, taking marijuana for MS wasn't common, but now it's very common and less frowned upon. It's a lot more accepted in society and people are more educated on the benefits of it. We still have a long way to go but we're heading in the right direction. The UK is the biggest producer and exporter of marijuana-based medicine in the entire world, but it's not allowed in our own country. It’s illegal and you can go to jail for it. The hypocrisy of it is disgusting. If we're the biggest exporter, we must know it’s beneficial. The UK is scared to legalise it, but I really wish it would.
Legalising it would mean I’d be able to get it free on the NHS. Being able to get a prescription would be awesome because it would no longer be a financial burden. You don't choose to be ill, so you shouldn't be penalised for it. I know a lot of people who can't afford it, but their lack of wealth shouldn't be an issue. It's had a very positive influence on my life and honestly, I don't think I would've been able to do a lot of what I've done in the last few years without it.