The Mail on Sunday

This life-saver mer­its re­spect and re­search

- By IAN BIR­RELL

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.

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