The Mail on Sunday
This life-saver merits respect and research
EVEN AFTER 25 years, I hate seeing the seizures. The look of panic flickering across my daughter’s face, the flailing limbs, the screams – and then after another dose of emergency medication, the slump as she sleeps off an attack for several hours.
Epilepsy is a brutal condition. It disrupts lives of sufferers and their families. Doctors often struggle to control seizures, relying on blunderbuss cocktails of powerful drugs. Patients routinely end up in hospital wards. And there is always that nagging fear of sudden death.
So I understand why Charlotte Caldwell went to such lengths to fight for the right to use cannabis oil that stopped her son’s fits.
She is far from alone. I was struck when visiting a New York outlet for medical cannabis to hear the chief pharmacist tell me of seeing scores of similar cases, their oils and tinctures reducing and ending epilepsy attacks that had proved resistant to traditional treatments. She was embarrassed at first to be in the cannabis sector, not telling friends about her new job. She soon became a passionate advocate after seeing children’s lives improved, chronic pain relieved, cancer patients helped to sleep and eat.
When I joined Ms Caldwell on her trip to Canada to obtain her son’s oil, she talked to family doctors and a paediatric specialist. It was clear that a plant seen in Britain largely as a street drug plays an increasing role in mainstream medicine.
Full disclosure: I am on the advisory panel of Volteface, a think tank promoting alternative drug policies including legalisation and regulation of cannabis.
But there is a big difference between students smoking spliffs and children with epilepsy having torment relieved. Recreational cannabis – especially highstrength skunk – can worsen seizures, while the medicine obtained by Ms Caldwell cannot be used to get high.
Cannabis is no miracle drug for medicine, but it merits respect, more research and regulated use. This is why 13 European nations and 30 US states permit use of medical marijuana, why British doctors discreetly suggest it to patients and why people risk arrest to smuggle it for sick relatives.
And this is why it is utterly bizarre that a Tory Government resists a popular reform that can save lives and cut healthcare costs – even to the shameful extent of seizing drugs from a sick boy and sending his wretched, lethal seizures spiralling back out of control again.