More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Charlie Courtauld: I'm still not stoned, alas

11th Novemeber 2001

I tried to start a rumour the other day. It was a great rumour. Like all the best, it had an aura of credibility about it. But I haven't heard it since, so I suppose that my career in rumour-mongering is a flop. The idea was that Osama bin Laden had somehow (I hadn't quite worked that bit out) adulterated the world's cocaine supply with anthrax. You can see the perfection – a white powder that City people sniff mixed with a white powder that kills them. And it might – if widely believed – have the beneficial knock-on effect of glassy-eyed cokeheads stopping their habit of handing over their cash to Colombian murderers.

But starting a rumour isn't as easy as you might think. The problem was that although the idea was great, I hadn't a clue how to get the gossip going. I wasn't about to join the internet chat-room crowd of weirdos. And there was the worry that I might be giving ideas to cranks. So a flaw arose in my plan. I didn't tell anyone, which rather destroys the point .

Drugs have been on my mind recently. On my mind, but not in it, unfortunately. I had hoped that I'd be too stoned to write this piece. By now, I'd anticipated that I'd be taking daily doses of cannabis and perhaps couldn't be bothered to get out of bed. But it hasn't worked out like that. My supplier, the National Health Service, hasn't delivered yet. So I'm still stone-cold sober, I'm afraid. Even though I bump into things like a drunkard.

For I had hoped that I'd be a willing statistic in that trial of cannabis for multiple sclerosis sufferers. My neurologist, Giles, was going to put me forward for it but the health authority has stymied that route by the brilliant manoeuvre of suspending Giles from the NHS. He had the temerity to question its wisdom in allocating only one consultant neurologist for our region, which meant that his waiting list was 14 months long. The upshot? Giles got suspended for his rudeness, and there is now no NHS consultant for this area. Giles is kicking his heels at home while a couple of hapless locums try to plough through his list. Meanwhile, I have had to apply direct to the cannabis trial people to get on their little list. It's a lot harder than just going out and buying the weed from a bloke in a bedsit.

There is always a price to be paid for going on these trials. Yes, you might get early free and legal access to the potion that can put your walking back on the straight and narrow. But you might not. As with most drug trials, this is a "double blind" job. I might get cannabis – or they might give me placebo. There are probably a few kids out there who think that Placebo is the happening new drug. "Like, I was really P'd up, man."

As like as not, I'll get a handy supply of the favoured substitute – sugar. At least you don't have to inject this stuff: I'd be really cheesed off to discover that I was jabbing sugar. But there's another, more disruptive, price. If I go on this trial, I can't drive a car for three months. And out here in the countryside, that matters. After a head-on meeting back in July, I don't have a car at the moment anyway.

In some ways, I suppose a three-month driving ban would be a relief: I'm a crap driver. But it does seem a bit rich that my enforced passengership comes not as a result of my ignorance of the highway code, but because I'll be taking daily doses of – probably – sugar. And there's a third worry: I haven't even taken anything angst-inducing yet. Maybe I should keep my head down just now. I don't want to do anything that'll annoy Alan Milburn. Last week the Department of Health announced that it's planning a countrywide trial of the MS drugs Beta Interferon and Copaxone. It sounds too good to be true: a trial for 10,000 with nobody on sugar? I'm a perfect candidate for Copaxone. So perfect that I'm already on it, courtesy of my mother's bank manager.

So is Santa Alan going to let me have my drugs on the NHS free as part of this so-called "trial"? Or is he just faking it to get himself some good headlines? It's only a rumour.