Newspapers Ltd., 16 May 2001
by Laura Smith
A Briton with multiple sclerosis was detained by Australian Customs officers for more than four hours because of the hemp oil he uses to relieve pain.
Mark Eden, 36, declared four bottles of hemp oil to Customs at Perth airport. He was kept and interrogated by police despite having a letter from his GP to show he uses the substance - which is legal and can be bought over the counter in the UK - for medicinal purposes. He was not charged but the police confiscated the oil.
"They treated me like a criminal," said Mr Eden. "They went through every little bit of clothing and searched everything in my bags. I had walked in and declared the oil and they still treated me like I had done something wrong. It was as though I was some kind of drug dealer. It was very intimidating."
Mr Eden takes the oil to relieve a skin irritation which he says is caused by his condition. Some homeopathists also believe the oil can help repair the myelin sheaths around the body's nerves which become damaged in MS sufferers, though this is not proven.
Mr Eden said: "When the Australian police confiscated my supply for my trip I had to buy flax seed oil instead, which cost me a lot of money. If it was something that I needed to keep me alive I could have been brought back in a box.
"I am speaking out to make other people aware of the problems they might encounter. I don't feel comfortable with drugs, I do everything naturally and pay for it myself, and this is how I get treated."
Mr Eden, a former serviceman, was on his way to visit his two-and-a-half-year-old son Mitchell for the first time in more than a year when he landed in trouble in Perth.
His GP in Milton Keynes, Peter Berkin, said: "Mark had been warned he might have trouble taking the oil into Australia, so I wrote a letter for him to take. Despite this it would seem he still had problems." An Australian Federal Police spokesman confirmed the incident took place but defended the actions of the Customs officials. "If they suspect that a substance is a prohibited import they are obliged by law to send it for analysis," he said.
"Whether or not hemp oil is illegal would depend on whether it contains THC - the active ingredient of cannabis. The laboratory is based in Sydney, so the testing can take some time. But if there is any doubt about its composition, as there was in this case, the sub-stance would have to be tested before the person could be charged with an offence."
A spokesman for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain said: "It is not that common to take hemp oil to treat the symptoms of MS. But if it makes you feel better and is not conflicting with anything else you are taking then who are we to say you shouldn't take it? Patients should seek advice from their GP."
Mr Eden added: "There should be a doctor who can be called in to look at the substance and documentation in cases like this."