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‘Stop criminalising the sick for wanting help’
OXFORDSHIRE’S drugs campaigners have highlighted the case of Michelle X, the Abingdon multiple sclerosis sufferer who grew her own cannabis, as “the human cost” of Britain’s drug laws.
Calls have been made to let people use cannabis if they suffer from medical conditions which can be eased by the drug.
Lady Neidpath, Countess of Wemyss and March, also known as Amanda Feilding, founded drugs charity The Beckley Foundation 15 years ago.
She said: “This is a very clear example of a human cost, where a woman is being criminalised for treating her condition.
“Cannabis has been scientifically shown to be less harmful than tobacco or alcohol. “I think Sativex (the trade name for a chemical compound found in cannabis) should be available across the board.
“It has been shown to help with MS and I think Ms X is a clear case of the fact that the current rules on controlled drugs do not serve the people.”
Ms X said: “I would like my doctor to be able to prescribe cannabis for me.
“It is so unfair that there is a product out there which helps me but I am not allowed to have it.”
A recent report by The Beckley Foundation, which is based at Beckley Park hunting lodge outside Oxford, said controlling street drugs would reduce the harm done to users and provide an enormous source of taxed income.
But cannabis remains illegal and Ms X, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 21, was this week given a caution by Thames Valley Police for growing her own batch of the drug she said was to medicate herself.
Stephen Trousse, a spokesman for the MS Trust, said: “We appreciate the frustration of people with MS who feel they are being denied a potentially useful treatment.
“We believe that people with MS should have access to safe, effective and licensed treatments for their symptoms on the NHS, rather than feeling they have to find solutions outside of the law.”
However, MS sufferer and Summertown resident Tim Treuherz, who paid £240 for a private prescription for Sativex, said he stopped using the drug.
The 55-year-old said: “Different things work for different people. I tried Sativex for a period of months but I don’t use it anymore because of its side-effects.
“Sativex did ease the pain but the side-effects were too much. There was a lack of ability to concentrate on anything.
“But at the moment some people cannot afford it and I think it should be rolled out across the country on the NHS.”
HOW THE LAW WORKS ELSEWHERE
OVER the past two decades, 18 states in the United States have legalised medical cannabis.
Some states issue medical marijuana cards that enable people with a doctor’s recommendation to obtain, possess, or cultivate cannabis for medicinal use.
Medical cannabis is also legal in Spain, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Canada.
In France, cannabis derivatives can be used to manufacture medicinal products that can only be obtained with a prescription and will only be prescribed when all other medications have failed to effectively relieve suffering.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: MARIJUANA AS MEDICINE
Q: WHAT IS THE LEGAL SITUATION REGARDING THE USE OF IN THE UK?
A: Cannabis is illegal and a class B drug, which means people found in possession of it can be given a prison sentence of up to five years, an unlimited fine or both.
In 2010 the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency licensed nabiximol, a patented cannabinoid which goes under the trade name Sativex, as a prescription-only medicine for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.
Sativex has not yet been assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence but is being included in the review of Clinical Guideline 8, Multiple sclerosis: management of multiple sclerosis in primary and secondary care.
A decision is expected in 2014 and, until then, funding decisions are made locally by NHS authorities according to their priorities and budgets — patients can get private prescription but these cost much more.
Q: WHAT IS SATIVEX AND HOW DOES MEDICAL MARIJUANA WORK?
A: Sativex is the trade name for nabiximol, a patented cannabinoid. Cannabinoids are a type of chemical compound which can be found in cannabis and some other plants.
The most famous cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis.
Sativex contains both THC and cannabidiol which is another major constituent of the plant.
It takes the form of a mouth spray and can be used to relax muscles and suppress muscle spasms in those with MS and spinal chord injuries. However, other anti-spasticity drugs such as baclofen and tizanidine do exist.
Sativex is marketed by German pharmaceutical company Bayer.
Bayer spokesman Danielle Smith said: “Sativex is a licensed cannabis extract approved for the treatment of patients with MS spasticity who are still having troublesome symptoms, despite trying other medications and who find Sativex works well for them in the first four weeks of treatment.
“Bayer is aware that Sativex is not freely available across the UK but is working with authorities to enable NHS access for those people with MS spasticity who are suitable for the product.”
Studies have shown medical cannabis can also be used to treat alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease, asthma and leukaemia.
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