The use of medical cannabis is growing in Northern Ireland and is being used to treat a variety of conditions from mental health issues to chronic pain.
Alan Robinson, also known as the “NI Canna Guy: on social media, has been using the treatment for a number of years after suffering from depression and poor mental health and believes more needs to be done to highlight the benefits of medical cannabis and the positive outcomes of those using it.
Last year he opened the Stay Medicated medical cannabis vape lounge in Ballyclare, Co Antrim, which is supporting people from across a number of different communities in accessing their treatment and says it is having a big impact on patients and giving many a new lease of life.
Speaking to Belfast Live, Alan said that he found the drugs he was being prescribed for his mental health were having huge side effects on him and instead of helping his depression, he was having more and more suicidal thoughts and without medical cannabis he does not know where he would be today.
He said: “I have suffered with anxiety and depression for a number of years, with it starting after the loss of four of my friends who committed suicide over a short period.
“This has a huge impact on me and my mental wellbeing, but the anti-depressants that I was prescribed by the doctors had terrible side effects for me and I found that I couldn’t cope with the suicidal thoughts that I started to develop.
“Things got so bad that I even started to develop alopecia and my condition only got worse and worse over time.
“However, with medical cannabis I have found a way to keep this under control and it has allowed me to live my life in a way that I didn’t think was possible for such a long time.”
Alan started his journey with medical cannabis by using CBD oils which helped him come away from the anti-depressants and after a consultation with private clinic, Integro Medical Clinics, he is now prescribed CBD and THC for a variety of physical and psychiatric symptoms.
“When I committed to thinking about cannabis as my medicine, that’s when everything changed. Having a legal prescription made a huge difference and helped me commit to it as my medicine and my family even began to acknowledge the positive impact that it was having on my life.
“When I got my prescription, everything started to improve. My anxiety and depression have less of a hold on me, I have much less stress and my hair has grown back. Now I can spend my time helping others with similar issues”.
Just over a year ago, Alan opened Stay Medicated in Ballyclare and is a proud advocate for the benefits of medical cannabis, believing that it should not be looked on as a “last resort” by the health service and made more widely available for those who need it.
At the vape lounge there is a growing community of patients, many of which suffer from chronic illnesses that have had a hugely detrimental effect on their lives such as multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia.
Alan also has a large social media presence as “The NI Canna Guy” and aims to provide people with support and education around medical cannabis treatment and aims to dispel many of the remaining stigmas around it.
He continued: “It’s amazing to see the impact we’re having in the community. People see the cannabis leaves on our sign and are intrigued to come in and talk to us. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about cannabis. They’re used to it being an illegal drug. We’re showing them that, when prescribed, it’s completely legal and above board.
“We see people from all walks of life in the shop. Nurses, businessmen and even local councillors. We’re helping people with mental health issues, cancer and chronic pain live their best lives. We just want to help spread awareness and increase acceptance of medical cannabis.
“I know some people will judge cannabis patients, even if they are legal and doing nothing to hurt anyone. Wider society will take time to change how it thinks. People need to understand how much is at stake when we let the stigma and judgement win. There are so many people out there who might be at the end of their rope. If they can have a medicine that helps them take a step back, breath and think things through, we might be able to prevent other people losing their friends as I did.”
On April 20, Alan will be speaking alongside cannabis-prescribing doctors, clinic nurses and other patients at Belfast’s first ever medical cannabis patient conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, hosted by Integro Medical Clinics.
Integro lead clinician and specialist pain consultant Dr Sunny Nayee said: “One of the reasons we are launching our first event in Northern Ireland is that we do hear about patients here having run-ins with misinformed police and that the stigma around cannabis can cause a strain in relationships between friends and family who still look at cannabis as a ‘drug of abuse’. We’re inviting everyone to come along to this event to hear the facts directly from doctors and patients.”
Image: Alan Robinson