Women with chronic illnesses whose lives have been changed by medical cannabis

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There are around 28 million adults in the UK living with chronic pain. Until recently, many of these patients, including those with arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve pain, endometriosis, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, were dependent on prescription opioids.

However, the dangers of long-term use of these drugs can be devastating. Statistics show that of the 115,000 opioid prescriptions prescribed daily in the UK, five are fatal.

Therefore, the guidelines set by the National Institute for Healthcare and Excellence (NICE) in April no longer assume that patients should be prescribed opioid drugs for prolonged use. Experts even warned that these pain relievers “can do more harm than good.”

Millions of people are desperately looking for alternative solutions. So, could this be the moment when medical cannabis finally goes mainstream?

It’s free of harmful side effects and has been legally available in private clinics and the NHS since 2018. It can replace many dangerous, addictive opioid drugs – and a host of others.

CBD oil is one way that people use cannabis for anxiety and pain relief

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But its remarkable therapeutic capacity is still overlooked as most doctors are not trained in the endocannabinoid system, one of the main physiological systems in our bodies that cannabis interacts with.

However, the evidence of its benefits is mounting.

There are more than 41,000 studies suggesting the safety and effectiveness of medical cannabis. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital in Boston reported in March that it significantly reduced symptoms in patients with chronic pain.

A 2016 review that spanned 10 years of research found it to be potentially the most effective treatment for fibromyalgia, migraines, IBS, and other treatment-resistant syndromes.

Dr. Simon Erridge, Volunteer Clinical Research Fellow and Physician at Imperial College London, says, “There is such a limited range of drugs that can help with chronic pain relief.

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“Exercise and psychological therapy can be helpful, but many people are still weakened every day.

Fortunately, there is growing evidence, from laboratory tests to human studies, to support the use of medicinal cannabis for chronic pain in the right patient.

“This is something that I believe has the greatest potential to positively impact the opioid epidemic.”

This is certainly the belief of many medical cannabis patients in the UK, who have found that what was once “alternative” treatment provides much-needed relief that is free from risky side effects.

Immediate relief from an amazing plant

Gillian Flood has lived with fibromyalgia, a long-term disease that causes pain all over the body, for four years

Gillian Flood has lived with fibromyalgia, a long-term disease that causes pain all over the body, for four years

Gillian Flood, 39, from Glasgow, 39, has lived with fibromyalgia, a long-term disease that causes pain all over the body, for four years. Her medical cannabis oil and flowers have been prescribed since April 2020.

“In 2017 I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and prescribed opioid pain relievers gabapentin and pregabalin. Both made me feel really drunk.

“I was foggy and forgetful and couldn’t look after my six children.

“It wasn’t until I saw a Facebook post on a fibromyalgia page in 2020 that I realized cannabis was an option. My GP certainly never suggested it.

“I booked a free review at a cannabis clinic and was prescribed a cannabis flower to vape or smoke.

“Within minutes of taking my customized dose, my muscles relaxed, my nausea subsided and my anxiety subsided.

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“I felt immediate relief after years of no rest. I wanted to go for a walk with my family – something I couldn’t do before.

“I didn’t feel affected at all, I felt happy and elated, but not stoned.

“I am very well looked after by the clinic and my progress is closely monitored.

“But while it helps me so much, the lingering stigma prevents me from being open about it.

“Some people have commented on how good I look, but I wasn’t comfortable enough to tell them it was all down to this amazing plant.”

It saved my life … I’m out of my wheelchair and hospital bed now

The happier Lucy cuddles her cat

The happier Lucy cuddles her cat

Lucy Stafford, a 20-year-old student from Brighton, has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which has caused her joints to slip and she has had chronic pain since she was ten. In 2020 she received a medical cannabis prescription.

“I was first prescribed opioids for EDS when I was 12 years old. By then, I had had multiple surgeries and was getting weaker.

“The increasing doses of opioid drugs I took during my teens – from codeine and tramadol to morphine – made things worse.

“I couldn’t concentrate, I got completely wiped out and dropped out of school at 16. When I was 17, I had a bad jaw dislocation and was prescribed the highest dose of fentanyl, which paralyzed my bowels.

“I had to be put on a feeding tube and almost died. My doctor said he had to think outside the box and tried to prescribe me cannabis with the NHS, but it was denied.

Medical cannabis has the potential to change people's lives

Medical cannabis has the potential to change people’s lives

“I didn’t know anything about cannabis at the time, but I went to Amsterdam to try it and found it made a huge difference to my symptoms.

“When I returned home, I started buying and using cannabis illegally. It was so effective that I was able to get off all of my opioid medications.

“But having to engage in criminal activity to get the medicine I needed was terrible – and an unreliable source.

“I got a private prescription in 2019 but it costs £ 1,450 a month. In July 2020, I signed up for a study called Project Twenty21, which offers subsidized medical cannabis that is monitored by Drug Science to find evidence of efficacy and safety in I hope this will make it more accessible to the NHS.

“It brought the cost down to £ 450 a month. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. Cannabis saved my life.”

“Now I’m out of the wheelchair and not spending my life in a hospital bed. I have energy and the will to be alive – I didn’t have that when I was on opioids.

“If I ever tell people the first thing the first thing I get asked is, ‘Are you high all the time?’ But it doesn’t turn me down. What it gives me is the ability to live my life, to play sports, sleep, have an appetite, and do what everyone else takes for granted.

“I am now on track to get my first degree from university, which would not have been possible without cannabis.”