Medical cannabis is slowly becoming part of the mainstream discussion in the UK. The NHS is trialling a cannabis vape pen, you can now buy medical oils with a high CBD content (the chemical in weed that helps mitigate the symptoms of lots of nasty ailments) and just last week a parliamentary report recommended that doctors should be able to prescribe medical cannabis to treat around 60 specific conditions.
The US and much of Europe led the way in legalising medical cannabis, and it's looking more and more like the UK is going to finally catch up at some point in the not too distance future. Of course, the fact that weed is currently illegal hasn't stopped many people from using it – it just makes it harder for them to access.
Ahead of a UK-focused episode of our cannabis TV show Weediquette appearing on VICELAND UK, we spoke to six self-medicating patients from around the UK to find out how cannabis has dramatically changed their lives.
About five years ago I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Literally overnight I went from being completely normal, to every joint in my body – from my neck to my toes – being completely stiff and swollen.
The first drug I was given was called Methotrexate; this was combined with painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication. The combined side-effects of these drugs were drowsiness, nausea, brain-fog, fatigue and constipation, among others.
I had to leave work, and after six months of living like that I went back. But things were falling through the cracks, and my boss started to suggest things like cutting down my hours. At that point, I knew I needed something different, because my career was everything to me; I couldn't lose my job. I had just moved into a new home – how was I going to pay this massive mortgage I'd just committed to?
At that point, I turned to cannabis. It's brought me back from the brink of someone unable to work in their twenties, to living a relatively normal life – even going to the gym most mornings. I can now work my 9 to 5, and more importantly I've replaced all the really damaging drugs which I was being asked to take for the rest of my life.
I have OCD, and when it gets at its worst I literally end up with nowhere to sleep. I end up hoarding so much that I don't actually have somewhere to lie down. I initially took cannabis because I wanted to drink less, and wanted another recreational option. But I found that when I consumed cannabis I could actually focus on my work – instead of sitting in the corner and doing repetitive behaviours.
At that point, I bought myself a vaporiser and began to consume it regularly – however, when I started looking for work, I came off cannabis as I was worried I'd be drug tested at some point. I took my prescribed Sertraline – a drug with horrible side-effects.
So what I do is I usually medicate before going to sleep. That way I sleep through what would be considered the "high" phase, and that way I'll wake up in the morning feeling calmed but not high. Then I can get on with my day, my job and my life.
I had a traumatic childhood; I had a mother who had attempted suicide more than once, and an absent father. Growing up, I had severe anxiety and depression, and because of my age I would have probably been diagnosed with something like ADHD.
I came across cannabis at university. After taking it for the first time I realised not only did I feel better in the moment, but the next day I could actually concentrate on my work. So from then on, I made the personal decision to use it. And it helped me a lot, right up to the point where I was arrested for it, and kicked out of university.
Things spiralled out of control and I needed help from a doctor, who agreed to help if I stopped my cannabis use. I did, and he prescribed me Prozac and Diazepam. After two weeks I attempted suicide, on more than one occasion.
The next doctor I saw told me to get off those drugs immediately and carry on what I was doing before. I haven't looked back since.
Cannabis has changed my life dramatically. It's the difference between having a life and not having a life. I have Multiple Sclerosis, and what this has done to me is taken away everything it is to be Clark.
Cannabis gives me back so much of what it is to be me; without it, I don't know what I'd do. It reduces my pain, my spasms, insomnia – it means that I don't shit myself. The pain that I'm in affects every single moment of every single day.
Cannabis doesn't take all that away entirely, but if my pain was on an 8/10 in a given moment, it can reduce it to 4/10. If it was the exact type and dose [of cannabis] that I needed, it could even go to a 2/10. It means I suffer less. Without it, I would be housebound, I wouldn't be able to get out, meet people and contribute to society. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have it; I don't know if life would be worth living.
I use cannabis as a mood-stabiliser for bi-polar disorder. If I have zero energy during the day, and I'm not getting anything done, I can smoke a joint and it allows me to focus on important things.
With bi-polar, my fluctuations in energy and motivation are quiet extreme – some days I feel like I can't move, whereas other days I have too much energy. Using specific cannabis strains allows me to manage that properly. CBD is an anti-psychotic, which calms me throughout – whereas THC gives me a therapeutic effect.
When it comes to treating bi-polar disorder, it is a complex topic. What works for me does not necessarily work for someone else with the same condition. My own intuition led me to cannabis; I find that it allows me to be myself. Without it, my depression would strike much more regularly and I wouldn't be able to achieve half the amount that I do. It's a part of my life.
At the end of my first year at university I became really ill with Crohn's disease. I was always nauseous, going to the toilet a lot – but I noticed a change one night when using cannabis socially. It was only a small amount, but I immediately noticed my symptoms go.
As time went on, I realised that consuming it in larger amounts through oils and edibles lessened my symptoms significantly. I eventually came off the prescribed Azathioprine, an immunosuppressant which gave me constant flu symptoms. At the time, I was doing a door-to-door sales job… it was pretty much impossible when I was sneezing every five seconds.
Now, I barely throw up, which is miraculous for a Crohn's patient. I go to the toilet about ten times less than I did before; I live my life with a lot less pain. I'd be bed-ridden without it. I wouldn't be able to get to work a lot of the time, and also I wouldn't have half the friends I have met through the medical cannabis community.
Crohn's is an illness that can run your life; it can dictate what you do. With cannabis I get control back, and I get to run my own life.
Watch Weediquette on VICELAND , Sky channel 153, every Monday at 9PM.
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