CANNABIS AND CHOCOLATE
|Cannabis - increasingly used for pain relief|
Marijuana, weed, grass, pot - they're all names for cannabis. For decades people have taken the plant for fun - but sick people are increasingly turning to the drug as a painkiller.
Inside Out investigates the covert networks being set up to supply people with this illicit medicine.
Part one - Mail order cannabis
Part two - Multiple sclerosis patients
Part three - A potted history
Part four - Legal maze
Cannabis is a powerful herb which has been used in pain-relief for centuries. There's just one hitch - it is illegal.
Despite this, people are risking going to jail to send the drug to total strangers who say that they desperately need to use cannabis as a painkille
Groups have sprung up in the North East and Cumbria who share one mission - to provide medicinal cannabis, free of charge, to those in urgent need of pain relief.
Mail order cannabis
Twice a week in a village of the North of England, volunteers at the mail order company THC4MS set to work.
But this is a mail order operation with a difference - the company sends out cannabis-laced chocolate to people with multiple sclerosis (MS).
|Chocolate with a difference - it has a medicinal quality|
Two hundred carefully packaged parcels make their way to the homes of bone fide MS sufferers all over the country.
The operation is shrouded in secrecy, and for good reason. What they're doing could land them with a hefty prison sentence.
Each chocolate bar contains pure cannabis worth £20, but THC4MS send it out for free.
To keep the operation going, the organisation relies on donations - of chocolate, cannabis and cash.
Therapy in a package
THC4MS stands for Therapeutic Help from Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis.
It was founded in 1998 following a debate about cannabis and MS on the Kilroy television programme.
|Cannabis - more than just a weed for MS sufferers|
THC4MS relies on donations of raw cannabis from growers across the UK, and supplies medicinal cannabis chocolate to people with MS nationwide.
The group does not buy or sell cannabis or cannabis chocolate.
It is a non-profit making organisation with the sole aim of helping those in need.
THC4MS now has so many clients that it keeps a register of them. It has 330 registered recipients of its product, and there's also three new enquiries from MS patients every day.
The group sends out about 70 chocolate cannabis bars a month. Each chocolate bar has 24 squares, and recipients normally take up to three squares a day to relieve their pain.
Lezley Gibson is someone who knows about the impact of MS. When she was diagnosed at the age of 20, she was absolutely devastated.
"I went from being a very active hairdresser to being a disabled person. I couldn't walk, I couldn't talk, I couldn't dress myself, I couldn't wash my face. At 20 it was awful."
|Feeling the benefits - Lezley Gibson is a MS sufferer|
Lezley believes that she has benefited from taking the the cannabis chocolate.
"Using it makes me walk better, it makes my arms work better, it makes me see better.
"It makes my speech work, it stops me wetting myself and it stops me falling over.
"Ultimately it makes me feel a bit happier than I did when I wasn't taking it."
Easing the pain
Pauline Taylor is a MS patient from Durham. She has had MS for 10 years, and for five of those, she has smoked cannabis to ease her pain.
"At the very beginning it was my daughter who got it for me.
"I was very worried about exposing my daughter in that way... She could've got into a lot of trouble with the police."
Sometimes Pauline has to go without cannabis for months because supplies can be erratic.
But when the pain really kicks in, cannabis helps and, as a result, Pauline says that she can at least manage to get out of bed in the morning.
|Before the chocolate Pauline had to smoke cannabis |
Now she's trying something new - her first ever batch of cannabis chocolate.
"Obviously it's a new way of taking cannabis. I feel excited but wary. I'll take little nibbles and do it gradually to get the effect."
Pauline is impressed with the results, "It tastes really nice - it just tastes like chocolate.
"The pins and needles in my legs are definitely less. I just feel as if my head's clearer than it was and I might just venture out.
"It's nice to think that all I have to do is to open the fridge door and I'll be able to have some chocolate which will help my pain."
Pauline is delighted that there are now organisations that have the courage and the guts to come forward to help people like herself.
But there's still the problem of legality and obtaining the drug safely.
Sixty-six-year-old Patricia Tabram from Humshaugh in Northumberland is Britain's most unlikely drug supplier.
This pensioner could go to jail for buying cannabis which she adds to food which she cooks for herself and for sick friends who live near her home.
It all started when Pat was involved in a car crash and endured a series of family tragedies. She also developed severe arthritis.
Her first experience of trying to buy cannabis was bemusing and would probably terrify most old age pensioners, as she explains.
|Gran power - Pat Tabram is a woman with a mission |
"The first cannabis I bought, I was told to go to a pub in Newcastle
"I stood there with looking out of place with my shopping trolley."
Eventually Pat found a dealer who sold her a small bag of cannabis for £20.
She had no idea what to expect or what she was really getting into.
Today she's still breaking the law, this time to help others and to keep the clandestine supply lines open.
"I'm just like a little district nurse really but instead of going around with injection needles and things, I go round with boxes of food which will keep them pain-free."
Pat is constantly afraid of being caught, "I'm always nervous that I'm going to bump into the Police."
A potted history
The reported beneficial qualities of cannabis as a medicine have been known for centuries.
Medicinal cannabis was first written about by the Ancient Chinese in Sheen Nung's Pen Ts'ao in 2737BC.
The Roman surgeon Dioscorides also praised its medicinal virtues in 70AD whilst the English herbalist Culpeper wrote about it in the Complete Herbal and English Physician.
Cannabis was taken widely for its medicinal value until the 20th Century when it was stigmatised and eventually banned.
|The official line from the Home Office|
Over the last five years, there has been a re-examination of the drug's potential as a medicinal treatment.
In 2004 Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary took part in a national trial to see if cannabis could relieve the symptoms of MS.
Patients who took part found some improvement in their condition, although results were mixed.
Those who saw an improvement reported pain reduction, better sleep quality, and a reduction in spasms.
However, progress in making cannabis available for medical use through the NHS has been slow.
As a result we are now seeing the first moves to co-ordinate the supply of cannabis by special interest groups within communities.
Bud Buddies is run by Jeffrey Ditchfield. He makes illegal cannabis creams, capsules and ready-rolled joints, and posts them to sick people.
It is not a commercial enterprise. Jeffrey is taking huge risks - he's been arrested five times.
But Jeffrey is clear about his intentions - he says that what he is doing is a "medical necessity".
|Arguing for the right to supply cannabis for pain control|
"Before Bud Buddies started helping people, they were having to get cannabis from their local dealer.
"The sort of cannabis these dealers sell... only contains 6% cannabis.
"The rest is plastic, diesel, ketamine (a horse tranquilizer), so people are damaging their health by going to dealers.
"Plus - they've got the chance of being ripped off or assaulted.
"I don't think people in wheelchairs should have to go down back alleys to meet scumbag dealers to get something which, effectively to them, is a medication."
Cannabis, the drug
- The drug derives from Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica, a plant related to nettles and hops. It grows wild in many parts of the world. The plant is believed to have originated in the mountainous regions of India.
- Cannabis contains more than 400 chemicals, including 'cannabidiolic acid' - an antibiotic with similar properties to penicillin.
- The main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC.
- The effects of cannabis generally last for up to four hours depending on the amount used.
- Cannabis comes in many forms - herbal, resin, powder, and oil.
- Eighty per cent of UK cannabis comes from Morocco. A growing amount is also home-grown.
- The main effects of taking cannabis are relaxation, talkativeness and cheerfulness.
- However, high doses can cause mild hallucinations and sensory distortions, which may cause alarm.
- Mild panic and paranoia are sometimes experienced by those who use the drug when already feeling anxious or depressed.
- Nausea and vomiting can occur when an inexperienced user tries too much cannabis at once.
- Other effects include short-term memory loss, and increased risk of lung cancer for smokers.
Cannabis can assist in the treatment of Aids, arthritis, cancer, muscular pain, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
- Cannabis became a controlled substance in Britain in 1928.
- Cannabis was decriminalised in the Netherlands in 1976.
- America established the Compassionate Use programme for medical use of marijuana in 1975.
- Cannabis was reclassified in Britain in 2004. Smoking in public is still illegal.
Cannabis and chocolate
- The combination of chocolate and cannabis was first isolated by Israeli bio-chemist Raphael Menchoulam in 1964.
- The special effects resulting from the combination of marijuana and chocolate are due to the subtle interplay of anandamide.
Despite the claims about medicinal value of cannabis, it remains an illegal drug.
On January 29, 2004, cannabis was reclassified from a Class B to a Class C drug in the UK, based on a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
However, the Home Secretary has now ordered a review of the decision to downgrade cannabis, as new studies suggest a strong link between the drug and mental illness.
Charles Clarke has now asked the body to consider whether the fresh research would lead it to change its position.
A home office spokesperson said, "To allow the cultivation and possession of cannabis would create a clear tension between the Government acting to facilitate an increased supply of cannabis and its educational message - to young people in particular - that all controlled drugs, including cannabis, are harmful and that no one should take them.
"Cannabis remains a controlled drug for good reason - it has a number of acute and chronic health effects and can induce dependence.
"Cannabis was reclassified to Class C in January 2004, there is now a presumption against arrest for adults found in possession.
"But they can be arrested if there are specific aggravating circumstances, such as smoking it blatantly in a public place, near to children or for repeat offending.
"Every Chief Constable in England and Wales signed up to the Association of Chief Police Officer's (ACPO) cannabis guidance.
"Of course there will be some variations, to allow for local circumstances, but we and ACPO expect the guidance to be followed in every force, and are carefully monitoring this."
The British Medical Association (BMA) advises people with chronic medical conditions not to take cannabis - no matter how desperate they are.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Ethics at the BMA, told Inside Out that the drug has a wide range of serious side effects.
"Perhaps the best known cause a change in mood a pleasant change for some but for others this can result in nightmares and confusion," she explains.
"Cannabis contains hundreds of active agents and all of those have potential to cause side effects in different people."
In the meantime, groups who supply MS sufferers with cannabis, however well-meaning, are still at risk of prosecution.
In early 2005, THC4MS, the group supplying the chocolate cannabis, was raided by the Police.
Cannabis and chocolate-making equipment were seized. Two people were arrested and are currently on bail.
There are 83,000 people with MS in the UK - and research has shown that up to 2/3 may already be using cannabis to relieve their condition.
But in future, groups like THC4MS could be immune from prosecution depending on a ruling expected any day by the Court of Appeal.
In the meantime, people like Granny Pat continue to risk arrest to keep the supply lines open to ease her own pain and that of others.