Illegally healed. Those are two words which you might not expect to hear together. Many people find that cannabis has a great positive healing effect for them, but, if they are healed with cannabis in the UK, then the patient must have committed a crime to obtain it. It was a phrase which really struck a chord with me when I heard Mike Cutler, United Patients Alliance (UPA) founding father, on a poscost for an American organization called Illegally Healed.
Two years earlier Mike was sent home with a bottle of morphine to die. He had terminal liver cancer. He wasn’t ready to give up and he most certainly didn’t. Mike told a packed room at the UPA launch night about how “I researched online and found Rick Simpson oil”. It turns out that after some time on cannabis oil Mike was no longer considered a terminal Liver cancer patient. He had taken his life into his own hands and Illegally Healed himself. After the launch night, Mike’s story gathered some serious media attention, appearing first in the Daily Mail then a number of copy articles in several other major national news outlets. Sadly Mike passed later in the year due to a new aggressive lung cancer, but his memory certainly lives on in the continued work of the UPA and other organizations.
This did get me thinking though; the fact that people are breaking the law to be well is a very real and very powerful oxymoron. One that cannot continue to be ignored. Many people with Terminal Cancer want to have this therapy and often don’t care if the law says they can’t. When it comes to everyday life, fighting Cancer and other nasties is a daunting task and many people get to the stage where they are willing to try anything that could help them. Even if it means that they are on the wrong side of the law. For many, when it comes to the straight up choice of health or law, we choose our health. This is something that I personally know very well as it is a choice I make every day of my life.
The very real therapeutic potential of cannabis should not be overlooked. Cannabis is currently Schedule 1 which means it has “no therapeutic value” according to the UK Government. Despite a huge wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary, apparently 4000 years of human history is easily erased in a few decades of misinformation and scare stories. This is a very real shame as, although cannabis isn’t for everyone, many people could experience positive benefits from incorporating medicinal cannabis into their lives. For example, CBD is a neuroprotectant which could be beneficial to anyone suffering head trauma and is likely to slow the onset of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s & dementia.
It turns out that, when you really look into it, medicinal cannabis has the potential to replace or at least complement quite a lot of conventional medicine. It would be foolish to say that every single person would find it worked for them but for the vast majority of health complaints it could certainly help. Take Viv Sumner for example: “I had a Plantiar wart on my foot, I spent thousands of pounds trying to treat it unsuccessfully,” Viv was looking for an alternative as the chiropodists, ice and medication from the doctor failed to remove the wart, “eventually I found oil and applied it to my foot, within a few months it had alleviated the symptoms and then one day it just fell off!”
Viv was shocked and decided to campaign with the UPA, joining Mike Cutler, Jason Reed, Caroline Lucas MP and David Nutt talking at the launch night. She says, “I can walk without pain, I can take my dog out for walks. I don’t have to wear slippers all the time; it’s greatly improved my quality of life. I’ve joined the United Patients Alliance because I believe that cannabis should be made legal.”
And she is in good company. Many of the patients who spoke at our launch night have gone on to take active roles within the UPA. Yet more people have joined since and our ranks are growing strongly. It’s important to point out that we are seeing many patients with different conditions are coming forward and talking about how cannabis helps them. So are many people who wouldn’t really have considered themselves patients before but, now they have thought about it, they realize that cannabis brings a positive benefit to their lives. These are people who under a restrictive medical only system would still be criminalized. And it’s important to point out that medical cannabis is not just for the terminal cancer, MS and epilepsy patients, but that cannabis has the potential to be medicine for everyone.
Alex Vitagliano is a prime example of this. Alex is the man behind a lot of the logos and graphics in the UK activism community including the UKCSC, Brighton Club and the UPA. It wasn’t really until recently that he realized he was a patient, “I thought I just liked consuming cannabis until one day when I’d had a really stressful day at work. I came home and had a dab and the stress evaporated to the extent that half an hour later my friends said, ‘not so stressed now then.’ It really made me realize how much of a calming effect cannabis has on me. It’s been even more apparent recently where I have struggled to find enough cannabis and I have noticed my knees and back are in lots of pain when I’m not able to consume. I have realized that I am a medical cannabis patient.”
Alex’s story reinforces the point that when it comes to cannabis, even if you consume for fun, it’s likely you are still getting a medical benefit.
What is also interesting is that the same can really be said the other way round. Stuart Wyatt put it well in the trailer for ‘Grassroots: The Cannabis Revolution’. When asked his opinion on the distinction between medicinal and recreational use of cannabis, Stuart replies, “Why can’t it be both? Why can’t people enjoy their medicine? Why should the two be separate?”
Which brings up a very valid point, what is wrong with enjoying something which helps you, and, vice versa, allowing something that you enjoy to help you? Why to get better do we have to get worse? Isn’t a medicine which you enjoy taking so much more preferable than one which you don’t? Wouldn’t it be much easier to get a patient to take medicine if it is something they enjoy? Why does the word medicine have to conjure up all sorts of horrible images like chemo and invasive surgery?
I know that there is a better way, a way to get well and enjoy it too. When I was diagnosed with MS I was offered a drug called Tysabri, but I decided not to take it as it came with a whole load of nasty side effects, which I didn’t want to risk. A coma I would never wake up from at the age of 24 years old was not a chance I was willing to take. So I, like many other patients, decided to take matters into my own hands. Through campaigning I have got to meet literally thousands of people from all backgrounds and walks of life who find that cannabis has therapeutic benefits for them, ranging from the most serious terminal cancer patient to someone like Alex who finds cannabis reduces their stress levels. We should not criminalize every single one of these people for whom cannabis has a real positive benefit. I was happy to get to put the below question to Nick Clegg on LBC in February 2015:
“In my time campaigning with the United Patients’ Alliance I have met and spoken to THOUSANDS of people who find cannabis is a medicine that helps them. Considering this and the huge amount of scientific evidence which shows medicinal cannabis is effective and can improve people’s lives, why aren’t you doing more about it?”
Nick’s response was good; when it came to medical cannabis he agreed that patients should have legal access to it, but he did show a crucial misunderstanding about the dangers of “skunk”, showing that he has a long way to go to being knowledgeable about the subject. I was somewhat disappointed in this but Nick did rightly say that the danger of “skunk” is even more of a reason to regulate cannabis. He didn’t really answer my question though, he said he would do more but it is close to an election and the Lib Dems, like most politicians, have been known to go back on promises, clearly evidenced by the tuition fees fiasco.
In the meantime the oxymoron continues to be a reality and people are still breaking laws in order to be as well as possible and to live a better quality of life. Mike Cutler said it best at the UPA launch night, “For sick people to be condemned as criminals for healing themselves with a plant which has been used for thousands of years is not only wrong, it’s against our human rights”. Though Mike is sadly not with us anymore, his words will continue to ring true and inspire activists for as long as it takes – hopefully not too much longer, because we won’t need to be activists when cannabis is legal.
Activism takes so much from patients’ lives, we do it as it is the right thing to do, but in truth we really shouldn’t have to fight to be well. It’s not really cannabis we are fighting for anyway, it’s the chance to live a better life, a chance to work and hold down a job, to contribute more to society, to have more energy to spend time enjoying our lives.
Susan spoke in Brighton about how medicinal cannabis helps her, “Cannabis helps me with the cramps and pain of menopause, I’m not sure what I would do without it.”
Cannabis needs to be brought back into the medicine cabinet and used to help everyone who can benefit from it. Susan’s story is another clear indicator that medicinal cannabis could be helpful for everyone. How many women could have better dealt with menopause if they had access to medicinal cannabis?
Jacob Barrow is a perfect example of someone who prohibition has a huge effect on – his life is taken up by fighting for his medicine. Jake has been campaigning hard to be prescribed Sativex and has now been successful after running a petition. Jake’s story and petition was featured in Manchester evening news and other news outlets which saw thousands of people sign and support Jake. Jake is the kind of patient who could lose out if the UK was to introduce restrictive measures on what conditions “qualify” for medicinal cannabis. Jake said “I want to be able to work – I think when people meet me and see the 11 inch scar down my body from the surgery they understand.” Jake should be allowed legal access to cannabis and we intend to carry on our work to raise awareness of medicinal cannabis and the burden prohibition places on all patients.
The conclusion of this article is quite self-explanatory, the oxymoronic nature of being criminalized for doing what you can to live a better life is something which clearly has no place in a modern society. The very fact that we have to fight for this is taking so much from our lives. It’s not okay that patients are denied this medicine.
We must stand up to unjust laws so, whatever you do, talk about it, do not be afraid to bring up the conversation and do not be afraid to get involved in the campaign, if we all stand up and start talking about this we will see the law change.
For myself and many others when it comes to the choice between having a better quality of life illegally, or legally living a life of pain and suffering, it’s a very easy decision to make. We fight so that future generations won’t have to make that choice.
By Clark French,
Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 116