Prescription cannabis and quality of life: a case study from the UK
Within four days of receiving her prescribed cannabis-based medicine, a women in her late sixties reported feeling “like a different person,” and in a good way. In fact, at four days into the treatment regimen of capsules containing 5mg THC and 10mg CBD, she reported improvements in nine out of 14 symptoms, tabulated below (and at seven days, the results got even better).
If that sounds a bit clinical, let me put it this way: that woman is my wife and within just a few days of taking the cannabis pills prescribed by her UK doctor, she seems both different and a lot more the same, as in: the same bright and smiling Chey who has been my partner for 35 years, now slowly emerging from a long period of pain and distress.
The rest of this article describes Chey’s case. I have separately written about the practical side of getting a legal cannabis prescription in the UK.
To be clear, neither Chey nor I are doctors, and we don’t know how long the positive changes produced by her cannabis prescription will last, but her research and experience with medical cannabis over the last 15 years has given us good reason to think that: a) those positive changes will last, and b) there will be no negative side effects.
Also to be clear: I don’t take cannabis, for my health or any other reason, and I have never purchased cannabis. (There were a few occasions over the decades when I took a hit from a joint, but frankly I did not enjoy it as much as a good gin and tonic.)
Caring, sharing, and gratitude
I was moved to write this article by the desire to express gratitude for the positive change that legally prescribed, UK-grown, cannabis-based medicine has made to the quality of my partner’s life, and to the quality of my life as her primary carer.
But I also feel a responsibility to talk openly and enthusiastically about the medical benefits of cannabis. By doing so, I hope to bring these benefits into the light, so that more and more people feel comfortable talking about them.
(As an old white guy, I am keenly aware that I am writing about cannabis from a position of privilege, but maybe that position can help me to reverse the decades of unwarranted and often politically-motivated demonization to which cannabis has been subjected, mainly by old white guys.)
One more thing I need to say before I describe the effects of cannabis on my wife’s health and wellbeing is that obtaining prescription cannabis in the UK, even in 2021, almost three years after it became legal, may be something of a struggle, and there may be costs involved.
Fortunately, efforts to reduce the costs and struggles involved in achieving improved quality of life through legal cannabis in the UK and other countries are well underway (I’ve linked to some of the UK efforts at the end of the article).
The results so far
As Chey’s carer, I am documenting her response to her cannabis medicine by tracking 14 symptoms that she has been experiencing since the end of 2020. In June of 2021, in an ongoing effort to remedy a lack of medical attention from Chey’s regular doctor, I documented these problems in a formal letter to her clinic, stating: “So far this year I have observed Chey experience the following symptoms which are getting worse.”
What I did not tell Chey’s regular doctor was that we were pursuing cannabis-based treatment, available legally in the UK since November, 2018.
As I said at the top of the article, after four days of taking the capsules my wife was better in nine out of 14 ways, meaning there were improvements in, or reduction of, nine of the 14 symptoms. But as you can see from the table below, compiled after seven days of cannabis-based medication, Chey is now enjoying improvement in 13 out of 14 areas.
Very little imagination is required to understand what a huge improvement in quality of life these results represent. However, here is one small illustration: Chey started taking the capsules on a Saturday and on the following Wednesday she engaged in the longest, most complex conversation she has had in six months, chatting for several hours with someone she had just met about topics ranging from issues in security for complex network systems, the challenges of technical documentation, management strategies in technical organizations, and cultural differences between Glasgow and Edinburgh).
Not only that, she did some gardening in the afternoon and the next day she got up and made her own breakfast. At no point in the previous 12 months was anything like that within her range of ability.
The Short and Long of Reality
I realize that at this point you might be asking yourself the question, the question I have heard from so many friends and family over the last 15 years: What’s wrong with Chey? This is often asked when Chey has failed to show up for, or has had to depart early from, some social event because she did not feel well enough to participate.
The answer that most of these people are looking for is a short one, a diagnosis, for example: Chey has cancer; Chey has MS; Chey has Lupus; Chey has Fibromyalgia; Chey has ME/CFS.
Unfortunately, at this point in time, I can’t say that any of those short answers are correct, if correct = a medical document confirming a diagnosis. That situation, in which Chey is far from alone, is problematic; and the problem is too big to address in this article, although I can say that gender, economics, and failed models of human health are involved.
Another thing that I can say is this: see table above. That table is what is wrong with Chey, a constellation of symptoms that add up to a seriously depleted quality of life, not to mention disability (Chey has not been well enough to work for 15 years and in recent years she hasn’t been able to walk to the corner store without assistance or safely get up the stairs in our house without crawling).
But here is the beauty of cannabis-based medicine: it this case study it has proven effective—objectively, observably effective—in reducing 13 out of 14 symptoms. In other words, cannabis is successfully treating most of what ails Chey, regardless of the fact that the root cause or causes of these ailments has not yet been medically identified.
So here is something to consider: instead of refusing to treat a person’s symptoms because we can’t figure out what is causing them, how about we measure how much quality of life those symptoms have destroyed, then apply cannabis and measure again.
As Chey continues her medical journey with cannabis, legally-grown and prescribed in the UK, I will report back here. I will also describe how she used THC and CBD to get from 140mg of prescription morphine per day down to 0mg when we lived in California.
In the meantime, I will add links to resources that readers may find helpful. If you want to know more about the process by which Chey obtained her medication, I have described it this article: Getting prescription cannabis meds in the UK legally: a beginner’s guide.
Resources and Notes
- The Medical Cannabis Network: https://www.healtheuropa.eu/medical-cannabis-network/
- PLEA is the Patient-Led Engagement for Access For Quality of Life with Medicinal Cannabis: https://www.pleacommunity.org.uk/
- The Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society (MCCS) is “an independent community of medical cannabis pioneers — the first prescribers of this treatment in the UK.”
- Cannabis Patient Advocacy & Support Services https://linktr.ee/cannpass
- Note: Chey’s cannabis prescription was provided by Sapphire Medical which is fully documented on the NHS website
- Note: Sapphire Medical had nothing to do with me writing this article
- The basis of Chey’s prescription is described on this NHS page: Who can prescribe a cannabis-based product for medicinal use? “Due to the limited evidence base and their unlicensed nature, prescribing of cannabis-based products for medicinal use is restricted to only those clinicians listed on the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council.”
- Sadly, the NHS pages about cannabis-based medicine are woefully inadequate in places and contain disparaging remarks about THC that are highly contested by many doctors and scientists. These pages reflect the approach of denying cannabis to patients who don’t have a documented diagnosis for one of the very few specific conditions for which the NHS will prescribe—as a last resort—cannabis.
- The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC): “developing better medical cannabis policy for patient access in the UK…through primary clinical research.
- MedCan Support: provides free resources and educational material on medical cannabis, with a focus on paediatrics and lobbying for NHS access.
- Medical cannabis advocacy by Project Twenty21: https://www.drugscience.org.uk/project-twenty21-medical-cannabis-patients
- Article on the use of medical cannabis in the UK: https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/the-use-of-medical-cannabis-in-the-uk/97915/
- Article on the lack of use of medical cannabis by the NHS: https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3xmye/uk-medical-cannabis-production-prescription
- Note: If you are writing about cannabis-based medicine and want an illustration that is not just a bunch of marijuana buds, feel free to use this one, which is free: https://unsplash.com/photos/qzD_H7-Jcj4