“I ended up getting scammed. I ended up in very vulnerable situations.”
Just a couple of years ago, Lucy Stafford was in such agonising pain that she was willing to treat it by any means possible. “I was literally in car parks doing drug deals,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Colin Murray.
The treatment she wanted was cannabis. Medical cannabis is legal in the UK, but it is hardly ever prescribed on the NHS. The 21-year-old student has Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS) which affects her connective tissue, and causes her joints to dislocate. Over the years she has dislocated her shoulder just by brushing her hair, and her jaw just by yawning.
When she was 13, doctors prescribed her opioids, which she says did nothing to reduce her pain. “I felt I couldn’t focus, I dropped out of school when I was 15. “I used to sleep 18 hours a day because I was just so exhausted, and so my muscles wasted.” Aged 18, Lucy had a severely dislocated jaw and was taking fentanyl , a powerful opioid which is far stronger than heroin. “I was at the point where I would have done anything to manage my pain,” she said.
It was then that her doctor tried to prescribe her a cannabis-based medicine, but Lucy’s NHS trust refused to fund her prescription. Cannabis-based medicines were made legal in November 2018, to be prescribed by specialists for patients who cannot be helped by other available drugs. But despite the change in the law, almost no prescriptions have been handed out on the NHS. Campaign groups say by not prescribing cannabis medicines, in particular those with THC – the main psychoactive ingredient – the NHS is limiting treatment options for patients.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the law was changed in November 2018 “to allow specialist doctors to prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use where clinically appropriate, and in the best interests of patients”. But they added: “More evidence is needed to routinely prescribe and fund other treatments on the NHS, and we continue to back further research and look at how to minimise the costs of these medicines.” With the support of her family, Lucy travelled to Amsterdam where coffee shops are allowed to sell cannabis, in order to try it. She said the transformation was instant.
“I can’t describe what it’s like to spend your whole teenage years literally crying yourself to sleep in pain every night, not understanding what living pain-free is like, and then being able to think clearly,” she said.
On her return home she self-medicated with illegal cannabis, getting hold of it by any means possible. In March 2019, Lucy was able to get a prescription at a private clinic, which cost £1,450, an amount she found difficult to afford as a student. Lucy said costs have gone down a little as more private clinics have become available. She is now on Project Twenty21, which subsidises access to medical cannabis for eligible patients, while their treatment is tracked by Drug Science, a UK independent science-led drug charity. Participants need a diagnosis from their GP of a list of eligible conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety disorder, multiple sclerosis and adult epilepsy. This information is passed to an independent clinic which then prescribes the medical cannabis.
Source: BBC NEWS