This isn’t clickbait. It’s not one of those TikTok’s where some dude from the US tells you very confidently that there’s a polar bear living in the River Thames, but when you properly look into it, it actually happened in 1252 under the reign of Henry III. No: You can, very feasibly, get medical marijuana delivered to your door, within the month, without ever leaving the house. No catches, no caveats. (You probably should leave the house, though.)
I’ve always been an anxious person. The kind of person who has, over time, dutifully learned the ability to mask my social awkwardness by filling the quiet lulls of conversation with questions and jokes, only to regretfully stew on them later. Sometimes, this function entirely fails me, like an old computer that can’t multitask. In those moments my face will flush or I’ll forget my breath just a half-beat too long so it becomes out of step with my speech, giving the game away.
During a particularly bad time around five years ago, my panic attacks in public would rush me so quickly and so intensely that I’d be left motionless and desperate for air. I’m sure you’ll agree that being physically hijacked by your own body when you’re just trying to buy a train ticket is – how do you say – not the one.
After this, I self-referred for NHS cognitive behavioural therapy, got a prescription for antidepressants and beta blockers and went through some very expensive private therapy.
Then, for one reason or another, I stopped everything. The sertraline was making me feel sluggish and frumpy, the eight CBT sessions came to a close and the private therapy eating into my overdraft was giving me a whole new form of anxiety. In just a few weeks, my panic attacks returned, particularly in the middle of the night, characterised by my religiously checking the windows and doors were locked every few hours to make sure nobody could break in and kill me.
It was time to find a new solution. At the time, I was writing a VICE article on why cannabis can sometimes make you feel sick. I ended up speaking to Dr Mikael Sodergren, the head of the Imperial College Medical Cannabis Research Group, who also founded The Sapphire Medical Clinic, the first medicinal cannabis clinic in the UK back in 2019.
I knew that the law in the UK had changed in 2018 after outcry around parents being criminalised for giving cannabis to their epileptic children to minimise seizures. But until I spoke to Sodergren, I had no idea it was now available to people with mental health and pain issues, mirroring the system in place in parts of the US.
“We have seen 20 percent month-on-month increases in patients,” Sodergren said. “Last month in the clinic, we saw 475 new patients.” As of April 2022, “about 60 percent of our patients are chronic pain patients. Then we've got about 20-25 percent of patients who have psychiatric [issues] – mostly anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, a little bit of depression, things like that.”
It’s safe to say I was intrigued and, although other clinics are available, I signed up with Sapphire in May. The process was pretty seamless. The biggest faff was logging into the NHS app and screenshotting my entire medical history to send to the clinic’s consultation team. Imagine how many iPhone screen-sized snaps it takes to collect all your data from birth to present day and understand that this took me hours.
From there, I was booked in for a consultation with a doctor who arranged to talk to me via Zoom. The initial consultation costs roughly £130 or for a reduced fee of £50, you can agree to join their patient role, which means you have to fill out a form documenting your progress for their cannabis research.
At this point, I felt a pang of imposter syndrome and started rehearsing and re-rehearsing the lines in my head of what I should and shouldn’t say in case the doctor decided that I wasn’t worthy of medicinal weed.
The reality of the consultation was vastly different: It was both incredibly intense and incredibly therapeutic at the same time. I was met on the call by a friendly guy sitting in what I can only describe as a laboratory. We made some light conversation before he asked about my experiences with anxiety, drugs, trauma and self-harm. I felt comfortable opening up to him, regardless of whether my answers might affect the outcome of the meeting. He ended up writing two separate prescriptions to treat my anxiety: one for THC oils and one for straight-up dried cannabis flower.
The clinic's job was now done and they linked me up with the supplier of their medicines. In this case, it was Sunderland-based company Rokshaw Ltd, which supplies Curaleaf medicinal cannabis into the UK. Curaleaf is an American company that organises the production of medical-grade cannabis products – they actually grow the raw materials for shipment to the UK in Portugal, where all drugs are decriminalised. Not great for my carbon footprint, but at least my prescription wasn’t being shipped directly from the US.
Rokshaw’s card payment system was broken, so their customer service team emailed asking for a direct bank transfer. This part felt shaky as hell, but I did as I was told and sent over two separate payments of £50 for 10 grams of the actual dried herb – containing 5 percent THC (the psychoactive element of cannabis) and 10 percent CBD – and an extra £30 for a small tincture bottle of THC and CBD oil.
The medicinal weed in the bottle. Photo: Ross Buchanan
Despite my scepticism, my prescription arrived via DPD the next day. The small parcel came in a mostly unmarked box and I’m assuming the delivery driver was none the wiser about what he had just handed me. I opened the box to a medium-sized tub brimming with dry and sticky cannabis bud and, even though I knew what I was receiving, I was still shocked by the contents.
I should mention that the Sapphire doctor encouraged me to vaporise the cannabis flower with a device suitable for heating dried herbs, instead of smoking it. The clinic recommend a few high-end vapes (like £400 high-end) that are a bit out of my price range, even with the VAT removed for medicinal purposes, so I did my research and landed on a nice little device called the Wolkenkraft FX Mini. It cost me £79 on discount and came with little dosage capsules that help make sure you don’t go overboard with your measurements.
I took a small amount of bud, ground it down with a grinder and carefully packed it into the dosage capsule, which I placed inside the main convection chamber of my vape. The FX Mini vape has an adjustable temperature gauge that ranges from 160 to 221 degrees Celsius – it doesn’t directly heat the weed, but heats up the air around the chamber to limit the amount of carcinogens normally released from burning the herb. The higher the heat, the bigger the hit – but the lower the heat, the better the flavour.
I settled on a mid-level 190 degrees and took a big ten second hit, inhaling deeply and holding it for a few seconds before releasing a plume of vapour into my living room.
My weed next to the FX Mini vape. Photo: Ross Buchanan
Immediately, I felt the low hum of anxiety – a hum I hadn’t actually noticed until that moment – drift away. The weight that cohabited my chest next to my heart and lungs quietly slipped away and the sharp edges of the room became more rounded and glassy.
You ever wondered how in the movies, people just gulp down zoots at parties like nobody's business? But when you take just two little tokes on London skunk you’re pulling a whitey? Well, that’s because medicinal weed doesn’t get you out-of-your-mind blazed like a lot of the stuff on the streets of countries where cannabis isn’t regulated.
The high is fuzzy and light. I found myself smiling quietly; stuff was funnier than usual, but I wasn’t erupting into uncontrollable giggle fits. I felt the muscles in my body relax but was still energetic and agile enough to get up and do the stuff on my to-do list.
My entire relationship with cannabis as a drug has been as a social and recreational drug. It’s something that appears at BBQs and at the end of parties when the sun is rising. There are rules to it, like how you might not open a bottle of wine until at least 6PM or take an eccy with your brekky, so it felt odd packing a vape and blazing in the middle of the day.
‘Cannabis is my medicine and I have to switch my perception. This is here to aid my anxiety,’ I told myself. ‘I’m not a lazy stoner for taking my medicine when I feel anxious.’
My first point of call was to visit the post office, something I usually find over-stimulating and scary. I’d been putting the trip off for weeks. Someone had purchased a couple of shirts off my Depop and had been messaging me asking where they were. I arrived at the post office and got in line, which was about ten people deep with only one cashier. Normally, I’d have bailed and vowed to come back at a quieter time, putting off the chore for another couple of weeks and just muting my Depop notifications, but no. This was the new me.
I got in line and admired the trinkets and toys on sale. I accepted that I could not control the radio blaring in the background or the tempo of the room. I agreed with myself that I would become one of the moving parts in the post office and allowed the 20 minute wait to wash over me.
When I finally got to the person at the counter, I realised I hadn’t played and replayed the forthcoming exchange within an inch of its potential reality like I usually would. I’d just cruised through the queue and carried out a routine exchange of services like a properly functioning human might. Magic!
From there, and over the course of the week, I went to a party, visited my in-laws and watched a lot of Charmed. I noticed that my sleep improved, I didn’t want to drink alcohol and felt like exercising more. I felt more sociable, had fewer spiralling thoughts and generally just felt better and healthier.
The only downside was being very aware of the cultural and legal ramifications of taking my prescription. I’m not a huge fan of vaping indoors as I don’t want my house smelling like a Camden record store, but I also felt the stares of my neighbours as I hit my blatantly weed-filled vape out in the street, which is more anxiety-inducing than relieving.
Sodergren reassured me: “It's only been three or four years since medical cannabis was legalised. And I think that we've seen big differences in federal awareness. So more and more members of the public are understanding that medical cannabis is an option [for] them.”
He added: “There's also an acceptance that this is a medicine like any other, you know, we now have Epidiolex and Sativex- cannabis-based medicines that are available on the NHS to anyone who fulfils certain criteria. In that sense, I think we're well on the way for these medicines to be normalised like any other.” Essentially, I need to chill out and stop worrying that I’m going to get arrested or ostracised.
It’s early days, but I’ve never had such an overwhelmingly positive experience in combating my mental health issues, or any other medical issue for that matter. Sure, not everyone’s experience is going to be as successful as mine but I’d definitely recommend looking into it if your interest is piqued. As always, sesh safely and happy blazing!