Today, I watched as one of our representatives denied the opportunity to even debate the benefits of Medicinal Cannabis. Such was his disregard for those suffering, he seems to have acted to prevent simple discussion of the pros and cons.
I'm ashamed to say that he's the MP for the Town I grew up in. For years I've watched people fruitlessly try to convince our MPs to listen, today was too much and I've decided that I need to put my head above the parapet and share my experience in this area.
Below is an open letter which I've sent to the leaders of the 3 main UK political parties
Dear Prime Minister May, Mr Cable, Mr Corbyn,
In light of the apparent filibuster (a truly undemocratic and reprehensible tactic) today, I felt it was important to write to you regarding the proposal to reschedule Cannabis in the UK, in order to seek your support for this important initiative.
I am far from a poster-child for medicinal cannabis, although I live in constant pain, it is the result of a stupid act as a teenager, which doesn’t engender much sympathy (nor, for the record, do I expect it). However, I believe it’s important that I share my experience in the hopes that it’ll become clear that this is something which affects people across the spectrum.
I don’t suffer in nearly the same way as an MS sufferer, nor in the manner that poor Alfie Dingley does. My intention is not to compare their situation to my own, more to dispel any notion you might hold that it’s only a few extreme cases which are affected by the abhorrent lack of progress in an important area.
To begin, I felt it would be beneficial to explain my experiences of life without medicinal cannabis available.
Nearly a decade and a half ago, I was involved in a motorcycle accident, which caused permanent damage to my knee, resulting in constant (and sometimes, outright unbearable) pain.
Although I sought help at the time, progress with the NHS was slow, particularly as in the months following the accident, there was a belief that the pain would eventually subside. It would take nearly a year for me get an X-Ray (and later an MRI).
However, being a teenager in Ipswich, it was easy for me to obtain Cannabis, which I quickly found to be very effective (and certainly more so than the over-the-counter painkillers I’d initially been advised to take).
The legal status of Cannabis meant, though, that it was not a good long-term solution. Were I to be caught with it, that would be my life ruined before it had even really started. So I continued to seek help from the NHS, who, by now were prescribing me Co-Codamol (30/500mg, 8 daily).
You may recall the news breaking that a Co-Codamol addiction could develop after just 3 days of use. I certainly do, I’d been taking prescription strength pills for over a year. I visited my doctor and explained that whilst I didn’t think I was addicted, I was keen to avoid it, and together we agreed it’d be wise to move me over to another analgesic.
That analgesic was Tramadol. Again, I was on a high dose, which brought the pain to bearable levels, but made the world rather foggy (and more so than the Co-Codamol which had had a similar effect). There were also some minor side-effects, all of which combined suggest it’s probably not particularly good for ones body in the long term.
At the time Tramadol was billed as non-addictive, but three months after starting on it I felt very ill. The doctor ran blood tests and found nothing. I recovered naturally about a week later.
A few months later the same thing occurred, and I finally realised that the correlation between the two events was that I was on annual leave - having a lie in and missing my usual morning dose as a result. The root of the matter was, I had developed a dependency on Tramadol. I visited my GP, who concurred, and we began to plan removing the Tramadol (with nothing really available to move on to).
Weaning off Tramadol was, without doubt, the worst experience of my life. The withdrawal symptoms are constant and have to be tolerated at the same time that the levels of pain you’re experiencing increase as your body yearns for the drug you’re trying so hard to take away. I won’t list the symptoms here, but you can find a fairly representative list at http://www.tramadolfacts.com/tramadol-withdrawal-symptoms/
On top of all of this, the NHS reached the end of the things they could try to help with my knee, so the news was broken that I was stuck with this pain for the rest of my life. It was too much to handle, and I ended up on anti-depressants. Though, I couldn’t be prescribed SSRI’s though, because they can cause Serotonin Syndrome when taken with Tramadol. So my doctor’s hands were effectively tied, they couldn’t even provide proper help because of the Tramadol.
These are the alternatives to medicinal cannabis, and are an example of what a failure to act will condemn the many sufferers in this country to (and many currently live in the hope of escaping).
Having explained what life without Cannabis was like, allow me describe my experience during my original regimen of self-prescribed pain relief.
I would smoke single medium sized joint a night (whether resin or herbal) would be rewarded with anywhere between 24-48 hours respite. Not perfectly painless, but more pain free than even a maximum dose of Tramadol was able to achieve.
Unlike with the ‘legal’ drugs, I wouldn’t be stoned during the daytime and was fully functional. I expected that a tolerance would develop, and that I’d need to smoke more regularly, but it never did to any great extent.
Although it sounds near idyllic, it did have some challenges, which for balance I will detail here.
- Firstly, you do have to be rather careful. Because of the complete lack of regulation in the market, both strength and quality (in terms of the presence of adulterants) is highly variable.
- You need to plan ahead to ensure a constant supply. Unfortunately, the Constabulary are often very effective at interrupting the supply chain. If you’ve not planned for these gaps, then you’re left in pain without relief.
- To minimise the risk of detection, the only real option was to smoke it (with all the health risks that carries). Using a vaporiser would mean keeping drug paraphernalia in the house and could be used as evidence against you
These are, of course, consequences of the ill-advised prohibition against medicinal cannabis, and simply would not exist within a controlled and regulated system.
It’s also notable that, despite regular and prolonged use, I didn’t become addicted to Cannabis. Whilst this may be luck, addiction is a definite risk with all of the alternatives available through the NHS. The simple answer is that the risk should be managed just as it is with any other medication.
Cannabis will not be suitable for all, just as no drug currently on the market is perfect for every patient. Even lowly Aspirin isn’t suitable for Asthma sufferers.
My current situation is somewhat different, and, frankly, less than ideal. I currently manage my life to try and reduce the pain, and only take painkillers when the pain is at it’s absolute worst. The result is a reduced standard of living, and an inability to do some of the things you might take for granted. I cannot dance with my wife (we never had a first dance at our wedding), nor can I play anything but the most cursory game of football with my son (even then, I pay a price for that). I spend every day of my life in pain that I know could be mitigated.
Unfortunately due to the ill-advised and unsympathetic policies of this country, Cannabis simply isn’t an option for me. I have a family to support, and the penalties were I found to be in possession are simply too severe. So, instead, I live my life in pain with the added insult of knowing I’m being denied effective palliative care based on no apparent reason other than apathy and ignorance.
Some of your colleagues have, in the past, made arguments against medicinal cannabis.
The most recent was an observation that the strength of cannabis on the street has increased substantially year by year. As if this was somehow an argument for withholding cannabis from those with a medical need. It is truly fallacious to use a consequence of a lack of regulation as an argument against regulating, if anything, it is in fact in favour of the contrary position.
There are, of course, also horror stories about the devastating effect cannabis has purportedly had on some of it’s users (our Prime Minister has even recounted some of these). This is sometimes the result of adulterants (which wouldn’t be an issue in a regulated market), and may even sometimes simply be the result of massive overuse. However, the same could be said of Morphine, which we still currently make available to those who need it. The same is also true of Tramadol and other Opiates, which are legal and regulated.
During PMQ’s recently, the Home Office suggested it’d be too difficult to test medicinal Cannabis. Leaving aside the fact that the Dutch seem to manage to do so, this a a Government which shows all the signs of actually believing it can filter the internet of pornography. Clearly the impossible is possible at the moment.
Although many arguments have been put forward, I’ve not yet seen one which stands up to any level of scrutiny, often being based upon observations of an unregulated market (the phrase ‘controlled drugs’ really is a misnoma, the Government has given up control and handed it to the black market). The predictable consequences of prohibition are not, and never have been, justifiable grounds for refusing medical care.
Finally, I’d like to close by suggesting that the Rt Hon Martin may wish to consider visiting the staff and patients of the Pain Clinic at Ipswich Hospital within his constituency.
There, he will find a brilliant and dedicated team of staff who really work to try and ease suffering. Perhaps he may like to ask the staff what it’s like telling a patient there’s nothing more than can legally be done despite knowing there are options shown to work around the world. I’ve been the patient in that scenario, and hearing the news that there’s no more to be done is soul destroying. If he were to talk to the patients, I’m almost certain he’d find some who’ve tried Cannabis for themselves, perhaps he should learn their opinions and experiences.
My advice to any other MP who intends to oppose or wayleigh the passage of this bill is the same – visit those who are affected, and ask yourself what right you have to condemn them to a life of pain. If you’re religious, ask yourself how denying effective palliative care to the suffering fits with your ethos.
It is my view that support of this proposal should not be a partisan issue. This isn’t about you as MPs, it’s certainly not about party politics, it’s potentially not even about the majority of the nation. It’s about those who suffer daily and need help managing their symptoms and pain.
As the leaders of the larger political parties, I urge you to encourage your members to explore this issue properly, and to vote in favour of the bill when it eventually starts to make progress through parliament again. Even if they cannot, in good conscience, support the bill, they should observe democratic principle and not attempt to subvert democracy by means of filibuster.
Remember that no-one’s health future is certain, you yourself may one day find yourself in need. Just as any one of your constituents could. You, like me, may be forced into the position of accepting a lower standard of life because the potential legal ramifications of taking a safe and effective medication are too high.
Although it seems unlikely, if any of you are interested in discussing this further, I can be contacted using the details at the top of this letter. Even if you have an opposing view, I’d be interested to hear your reasoning so that I can at least begin to understand your rationale for withholding relief.
Thank your for your time