On average, an individual GP will diagnose eight people with cancer every year, a disease that claims thousands of lives in the UK.
When conventional treatments fail to work, patients are subjected to rounds of radiation, chemotherapy and painful surgery. When it’s a matter of life and death, patients are willing to try anything to ease the mental and physical pain.
Hemp has played an important role in the development of the human race. The plant has been elemental in the history of pottery, clothing, medicine, diet, and language.
Despite the hugely expensive and controversial ‘war on drugs’, attitudes towards medicinal cannabis are beginning to change. The plant is slowly becoming decriminalised across many countries throughout the world for those in need. However, the UK’s attitude towards the plant remains somewhat stagnant and regressive.
Research is underway on the potential of cannabis use for medicinal purpose, while the law categorises the herb as a schedule one drug – meaning its medicinal value isn’t recognised.
Sativex is the only legal form of medication that contains cannabis products: it is an oral spray used in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It’s still incredibly hard to get hold of, as many doctors either consider it a last resort or refuse to prescribe it altogether.
Cannabis oil hasn’t been accepted as an effective form of medicine by doctors at large, but that may be a result of the stringent legislation surrounding the plant.
However, cannabis oil is a particularly favoured form with those with serious illnesses. Upon ingestion, the oil has been cited to be an impactful source of pain relief, reducing anxiety levels and acting as a deterrent against growing cancerous cells and tumours.
“My work focuses only on certain substances that have been isolated from the cannabis plant, and has not involved using whole plant extract.” Dr. Wai Liu
People’s anecdotes of success when using cannabis oil suggest that it should be made more available. The law, it seems, needs to catch up!
This conundrum has resulted in a growing trend among cancer patients growing their own cannabis and extracting its oil privately.
Dr. Wai Liu, senior research fellow at St. Georges’ University of London is one of a few researchers in the UK looking into the benefits of cannabinoids for medicinal use.
He found that mice infected with glioma – a type of tumour that starts in either the brain or spine – responded well to a combination of Sativex and radiation in comparison to the two treatments used separately. The tumour cells shrunk significantly, stagnated in their growth, and these results led on-going trials on humans.
Liu has experimented with six types of cannabinoids on leukaemia cells and found that the non-psychoactive strands of the herb reduce cancerous growth at all stages of the cell cycle.
However, despite getting some positive results, Dr. Liu is still somewhat sceptical of cannabis oil as a form of treatment, adding that more research would need to be conducted.
“My work focuses only on certain substances that have been isolated from the cannabis plant, and has not involved using whole plant extract. There is data to suggest that a number of these isolated compounds that are termed cannabinoids have differing levels of anti-cancer activity, which had lead to the idea that using cannabis oil may be effective,” he explains.
“This may be true, however, I also know that some of these cannabinoids, if used at certain doses or in mixes, can interfere with their own effects as well as with the action of other medications that patients might be taking. For this reason, I have always felt using just the active cannabinoids rather than the whole plant might be the way forward, as activities and re-activities with other treatments could be predicted. These other components might not be necessarily harmful, but may just neutralise the activity of those that were actually working.”
In spite of this, Liu admits that cannabidiol (CBD) and THC – the principal psychoactive part of cannabis – do seem to have a predominant anti-cancer effect.
Amidst the struggle to get legal cannabis-based treatment on the shelves, there are many scam artists and poor-quality oil dealers who have found an opportunity to make money. There is a little help cancer patients can seek out through the Internet, but it remains a difficult task to find.
Jeff Ditchfield, founder of non-profit organisation Bud Buddies, is a prolific activist for medicinal cannabis in the UK.
“The greatest challenge in the UK was, and always has been, having access to enough cannabis to meet the needs of the people requesting assistance.” Jeff Ditchfield
Starting in 2002, Bud Buddies sent free cannabis oil and pre-rolled joints to people with a range of serious conditions all over the UK. He was able to run the organisation from a cannabis coffee shop, The Beggars Belief, in North Wales.
Alhough the authorities weren’t fond of Ditchfield’s pursuits, Ditchfield says his clients and customers felt differently: “The greatest challenge in the UK was, and always has been, having access to enough cannabis to meet the needs of the people requesting assistance. The general public has always been very supportive of our efforts.”
After numerous raids, arrests, and a lengthy court case, Ditchfield relocated to Spain where the laws on cannabis were much more relaxed.
Back in Britain, he still has nine criminal convictions under his belt – all for supplying free cannabis oil and joints to sick people. Bud Buddies now teaches people how to be self-sufficient, giving guidance to those wishing to grow cannabis plants and extract oil in the comfort of their homes.
Since making the move to Spain, Ditchfield says that research into the properties of cannabinoids and the power of cannabis oil has become one of his over-riding goals.
“In Spain, Bud Buddies and myself are working with cannabis associations and we are providing some of them with cannabis preparations for their medicinal members. It is apparent and obvious that cannabis and cannabinoids have many medicinal properties, and in treating cancer they are proving to be life savers,” he says.
Having become one of the UK’s leading advocates of medicinal cannabis, many individuals and families travel to Spain to seek his advice and gain skills in growing the plants themselves.“To put into context, imagine you are part of a large crowd standing on the bank of a canal in a world where swimming is illegal and there’s a young child drowning in the water. Due to swimming being illegal no one in the crowd can swim and the police officers in attendance are threatening to arrest anyone who goes into the water. What would you do? Because that’s all I am doing,” explained Jeff, in a hair-raising analogy.
So who is that child drowning in the canal? A British family that uses cannabis oil for medicinal purposes spoke to Artefact on the condition of anonymity.
After receiving palliative care, their young child had undergone numerous failed bone marrow transplants, three major infections with no immune system left to fight and with extremely low levels bone marrow in his body.
Doctors said nothing more could be done and that without antibiotics he would die within a matter of days. They were looking to increase his morphine intake when his parents looked for an out-of-the-box solution.
Desperate to make their child as comfortable as possible, the parents started administering cannabis oil to him a few times in the day. Not only did it help him to sleep without heavy doses of morphine but his condition started to improve dramatically too.
“After four days of giving him the tincture each day, he developed an immune system. His three infections cleared up and within just four days, tests showed that he finally had a neutrophil count. I think that was all down to the cannabis tincture but obviously I couldn’t be 100 per cent sure of that. What I will say is that after a couple of weeks, I started to experiment with it – when I gave the tincture, his neutrophil (white blood cells) count doubled; when I didn’t – it dropped,” one of his parents told us.
“There is data to suggest that a number of these isolated compounds that are termed cannabinoids have differing levels of anti-cancer activity.”Dr. Wai Liu
Soon he was able to start producing his own red blood cells and the doctors were marvelling at his improvements in mental health too.
After receiving a quiet nod of approval from the doctor, the family continued to do so – though if they’re found out they would face a custodial sentence and their son would be taken into care.
“He is now no longer depressed. He is happy to be alive. He is no longer needing pain killers, and is slowly having the radiation in his body reduced. His stomach is processing food while his blood count is far better than they could have ever expected this soon after transplant and all of this is due to the oil.”
One pioneering voice in the efforts to spread the message of the prosperous effects of cannabis oil is Canadian comedian and actor Tommy Chong.
Not only has he been a life-long advocate for decriminalising cannabis in the US, but he now also claims that cannabis oil helped save his life.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, Chong announced on CNN that he would be treating it using cannabis oil. He was initially prescribed Avodart by his doctor but came off it quickly after learning the severe side-effects of long term use.
After seeking alternative treatments Chong found a new doctor in Canada who put him on a strict diet, exercise regime and cannabis oil.
Chong told Artefact the oil has done wonders in boosting his recovery: “It was effective almost immediately; as soon as I got off that Avodart, I got onto the cannabis oil. Within a couple of weeks, I could safely say I no longer had a serious form of cancer.”
Chong was encouraged by Canadian farmer Rick Simpson’s documentary Run From the Cure of using hemp oil to cure his melanoma and wasn’t sceptical when starting his own treatment with cannabis oil suppositories.
He even used the oil topically to reduce knee inflammation when competing on the American TV show Dancing With The Stars.
With his health continuously growing better, Chong became increasingly critical of the current medical procedures deployed for treating cancer.
“I think that when somebody has a medical condition and there is something that can help them and they aren’t allowed access to it – that it is inhumane.”Norman Baker, Lib Dem MP
“I believe that continuous use of cannabis is good for the health and good for the body. The standard medical procedures ruin your health. It’s medicine that they can control and make a lot of money from and not necessarily help the patient. The other [illegal] street medical establishments makes so much money off people’s misery and they’re dying in the kind of treatments they’re using. I’m still here and the cannabis is my saving grace,” Chong said.
In the United States, medicinal cannabis is allowed within 23 of 50 states, while three are currently pending legislation including California, where Chong can medicate legally.
Medical cannabis has also been legalised and decriminalised in many countries like Uruguay, Canada and the Netherlands but the UK is yet to join their ranks.
Norman Baker, Lib Dem MP and former drugs minster, has been a vocal campaigner for medicinal cannabis within parliament for some time.
As minister under the coalition, Baker faced internal clashes with Theresa May over the idea of re-adjusting the current drug laws.
The Conservatives relented under pressure as Baker called for a Home Office report which explored the international evidence on the impact of legislation on drug use.
The report was repressed for several months and Baker’s proposal recommendations were removed from the original draft. He resigned a short time afterwards.
“They [Conservatives and Labour] believe, wrongly in my view, that if they were to adopt an approach which Liberal Democrats have adopted they would be seen as ‘soft on drugs’ and therefore they don’t want to go anywhere near it. In other words, they’re putting their electoral prospects ahead of the medical needs of individuals,” said Baker.
Baker told Artefact that if medicines such as cannabis oil were legalised they should be made readily available for prescription from a GP.
“I think that when somebody has a medical condition and there is something that can help them and they aren’t allowed access to it – that it is inhumane. If a doctor believes that a particular substance is helpful to a patient then he/she ought be able to write a prescription for it.”
Featured image by Andres Rodriguez via Flickr