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Smoke and Mirrors: A Chronic Pain Sufferer’s Experience of Being Locked Out of Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis is legal in the UK – but only if you can buy a prescription. Here is an anonymous account of navigating the situation

The NHS has issued just a handful of medical cannabis prescriptions since it was legalised in 2018 following campaigning by the family of epilepsy sufferer Alfie Dingley. Photo: Hanna Kuprevich/Alamy

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I discovered cannabis when I was around 12 or 13. I was diagnosed with ADHD from a very young age and it calmed my impulsiveness.

I couldn’t follow orders at school. I knew stuff, I wanted to contribute, but the teachers acted like I was an idiot. It triggered major anger problems and I was suspended for three weeks. I also got blamed for stuff I never did.

They stuck me in isolation in school – effectively educational solitary confinement. I’d light up a spliff every morning on my way there, usually hash. I had problems, but weed was a huge help. I was top of the class and got the highest award at that school.

When I was a kid, I would get told to do little ‘jobs’ for the people I was buying weed from, like delivering weed, and who knows what else. Buying it was dangerous – you’d get robbed, your phone would get nicked, and it introduced you to a whole other life you shouldn’t have access to. 

By 15, I was already working full time, delivering phone books. It was chilled and worked with my conditions. There were no strict rules. It was cash-in-hand as I had no NI number. 

By the time I got proper jobs at 16, I worked too hard – that was my problem. I couldn’t stand other people being lazy. Work was my gym – I got all my energy out in the warehouses. But I still needed weed.

When I was 21 and then 23, my daughters were born.

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ADHD treatment for adults is almost non-existent. But work was brutal. The longest job I held was three months. I talked to a really good psychologist and became a house-husband for a bit. But I felt like a total failure. 

I was determined to go back into work. I put myself through college, with weed keeping me calm. I’d decided to get my life sorted, thanks to an amazing psychologist and using weed. I still struggled with OCD and not being able to stand rude people. My psychologist said I should accept who I was. 

I got myself ‘A’ Level maths and physics, smoking before my studies. It helped my brain soak up the information. Without it, it was like wading through lead. It was CBD with a bit of THC – far more beneficial to me than skunk. 

Getting off benefits felt good; being on them made me feel dirty. The stigma was huge. I became an electrician and got a £26,000 a year job in my mid-20s. By the end of 2015, I was an electrical engineer. I stuck to the rules at work. 

I started growing weed – and that went on doing so for eight years. I needed it. It’s so pricey on the street and I can’t stand the anxiety that comes with talking to drug dealers.

The cannabis trade is dangerous. You see weed that has had glass particles sprayed on it to make it seem ‘sticky’. If it was legal, I would grow it, and it would be pure. But while I was growing weed illegally, I thought every knock on the door was the cops. 

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After I sustained a serious back injury in 2017, everything went downhill. I struggle with incontinence and depression, and everything feels 10 times worse. I wasn’t able to grow anymore. I was never a seller, but I had a regular supply. I only had a couple of plants in a tent with a light.

I went from having a career and almost buying a house. That dream was swiped away from me due to my injury. I tried to go back to work, but was bullied out of it.

Having to go back to buying from the street after being away from it all was a disaster. I had to go back to seeing shady guys, with my wife picking it up on the streets, paying lots for subpar stuff. 

The chronic pain made my ADHD worse, and cannabis was the only relief. But the costs are high on the black market – the only market.

I saw multiple pain clinics and they put me on strong medication with severe side-effects.

My local trust had also diagnosed me with symptoms of adult ADHD. I got put on seroquel, a powerful antipsychotic. It nearly ended my life. Pain clinics wanted to put me on fentanyl patches and high dose opiates. The doctors said they can give me opiates, but they could kill me. It causes long-term liver damage. The chronic pain makes my ADHD worse. I become more aggressive. But the pain makes ADHD the least of my worries.

Without a steady supply of weed, I’m on a huge range of medications for my pain and other conditions. I’ve been prescribed oxycodone, gabapentin, sertraline, propranolol – the list goes on. I’ve been through a spiral of medications.

Mental health services say they can’t deal with multiple issues like ADHD and chronic pain/anxiety at the same time. Yet they’re all linked. 

And getting cannabis legally on prescription costs a fortune – it can be £400 for an initial sign-up fee, and £200-300 in advance for the product each month. If you’re wealthy, you can get help. 

A cannabis store in Detroit, Michigan. Recreational and medical cannabis is available in swathes of the US, and across Canada. Photo: Jim West/Alamy

Riddled with Risk

Having to buy off the street is risky; sometimes, the weed makes my condition worse. It’s not like a shop – you can’t return it if it’s bad. The variations – sativa and indica – have very different medicinal values. If I smoke sativa, it makes me paranoid and I shut down.

I need indica. The ratio of [non-psychoactive] CBD to [psychoactive] THC is crucial; it can make a real difference to your psychological reaction. If it was regulated, we’d know the quantities, preventing psychotic reactions.

It’s a stack of dominos. This isn’t just about people in pain – it’s cancer and epilepsy patients who are losing out too. 

I know I’m damaging my lungs by smoking weed with tobacco. I smoke three to five spliffs a day. If I had cannabis oil or a vape, it would massively benefit the NHS.

One of my friends had an aneurysm and said weed is what she needed for her conditions. I gave her the stuff I was growing for free. She was distraught when I had to stop growing. 

Doctors need more training on prescribing medical cannabis on the NHS. Legalising it would save the NHS a huge amount in the meds I would no longer be taking. If the government paid for the assessments, I could pay for the product. 

This Government has done so much damage. These people at the top don’t care. They are shameless, breaking the rules themselves. And yet, I felt ashamed – for not being able to work and for having to buy drugs to handle the pain. 

Medical cannabis right now is a rich boy’s toy. Some people know how to work the system to get it. That’s a luxury I can’t afford though.

As told to Byline Times’ Chief Reporter Josiah Mortimer

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