The medicinal cannabis scene in the UK is lagging increasingly far behind other developed nations, and the government remains hostile to the idea of legalization and regulation despite repeated calls from scientific and medical organizations. To some, waiting for the law to change is simply not an option – when there are sick people that could benefit from cannabis, they will do their utmost to supply it, even at great risk to their own safety. We managed to catch up with one of the UK's "illegal healers" to find out what her everyday life is like, and why she feels it's essential that cannabis is legalized as soon as possible.
How long have you been an illegal healer?
It's been around eighteen months since we actually set up as the collective we call Illegal Health. Before that, I was working on my own projects for at least another year to eighteen months – so two and a half to three and a half years total.
How many people have you treated, and how many of them have experienced positive benefits from the work that you do?
It's hard to put an exact figure on it, as people can be very hard to track over time. Overall, we've probably provided 80-100 people with cannabis for medicinal use. We've had some notable successes, but as patients often fade in and out of contact, and we sometimes completely lose touch with patients, it can be hard to know exactly what success we have had since we began our work.
Do you have methods for keeping records? Treatment regimes, side-effects, relapses, remissions, etc?
Well, I'm a trained therapist, so I'm used to generally keeping records on patients. When it comes to providing cannabis to patients – with my long-term patients that I can maintain contact with, I can keep quite consistent records of their medical progress.
How do you produce the cannabis you use to make medicine?
Currently, we're running a medium-size illegal grow op, which is shared with other people. It's never enough oil – to have enough to treat everyone that could benefit, we would require gigantic grow operations!
I'm prepared to put myself on the front line, and I'm prepared to take calculated risks and not to feel ashamed or afraid of the potential fallout, but I'm not prepared to take stupid risks. So for now, operations need to stay small so that the risk of serious penalties is minimized.
How do you decide how best to treat your patients?
I give every potential new patient a full consultation to find out as much relevant information as possible about their illness. For many patients, they come to me with little to no medical knowledge, and it can be difficult to know how much basic information I need to repeat, or how much they already know – so before the consultation I give each patient a list of FAQs so that they have a basis in fact.
Tell us more about your patients. You've had several notable successes, right?
Well, my star patient is none other than my own mum! We've been treating her cancer with cannabis oil for several years with great success. She's responding extremely well to treatment, her markers are down and are staying down, and she has enough oil to keep her going for a long time!
Another success story I'm happy to share with you is "Bob". We've been working together for two and a half years, since he was diagnosed with terminal skin cancer. He's undergone significant improvements, and this is one case that really makes me feel that there is a direct correlation between cannabis use and the progression of his cancer. Even if all other aspects of his life remain the same, if he runs out of cannabis oil, his markers begin to go back up again. He resumes use of cannabis oil, and they go back down again!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years, in terms of this business?
Well, things aren’t going to come up smelling of cannabis. If the present state of affairs is anything to go on, GW Pharma will monopolize the medical cannabis industry, and the Tory government will probably have a field day with exploiting and persecuting growers! So I think we'll have our work cut out for us, and I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to do this on a legal basis.
How do you feel we can achieve genuine legalization and regulation?
The community needs to stop fighting among itself. This is one of the biggest problems… at times, it's less of a community and more a collection of single-interest issue groups made up of disconnected people. Lots of different interests, all potentially conflicting...
But the bottom line is that "access to medicine” is a human right. The arguments against making cannabis available as medicine to those that need it simply don't hold up, and we must urgently recognize that on an international scale.