More MS news articles for May 2002

Charlie Courtauld: Before I can get cannabis on the NHS, I'm made to remember shopping lists

12 May 2002

Sorry to disappoint all you dope smokers out there, but marijuana legalisation isn't something I get worked up about. If it's legalised, fine. If it isn't, so be it. So why was I sitting in the waiting room at the Institute of Neurology on Monday, desperately hoping that I'd get free dope from the cannabis-in-multiple sclerosis trial? I can tell you that it wasn't in the hope of getting a safe supply of Lebanese White Widow. It never did much for me.

Apparently cannabis helps some people with walking difficulties. And since this is a rather cheaper and safer method than a clandestine meeting with some spotty teenager with a Nirvana T-shirt in a Colchester subway, I joined the trial queue. Acquiring the weed this way isn't simple. First you have to be assessed. Hence last week's trip (pardon the pun) to Queen's Square in London's Bloomsbury. The Institute of Neurology is a bit swankier than the hospitals I've attended recently. It's got mosaics on the floor, and lurid portraits of the late Princess of Wales on the walls. First I had to see Emma the physiotherapist. Emma spent some time wiggling my arms and legs around, scoring my limbs for spasticity. My right leg's a two, apparently. She was undecided about my left, but gave it a one. Whatever that means. Then it was time to see the doctor. He looked alarmingly younger than me but then so does Carter in ER, and he's good, so I mustn't judge. Anyway, this doctor was called Rory, as is my one-year-old, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Rory asked some questions, then gave me the verdict. "I'm delighted to tell you that you've been accepted for the trial." Delighted? So was I, actually. I don't think I could have stood the rejection.

So much for the good news. Now for the bad. "You understand that you can't go abroad while you're on the trial?"

"Abroad? No."

"We're going to provide you with sufficient quantity to merit arrest for intent to supply. I'll give you this card you can wave at any UK policeman but it won't impress foreign cops." Great. Not that I have any plans to go abroad, mind. But the prospect of having my collar felt by a Turkish rozzer was depressing anyway. "And you can't drive either. I'm going to have to inform the Home Office of your intention to participate in the trial. If you crash a car while taking an illegal substance, that's a criminal offence."

So. No driving for three months. No foreign travel. David Blunkett gets a file on me. And the ordeal wasn't over yet. There was still the psychological test to endure.

Everyone knows that MS makes you fall over, bump into things and so on. But it can also make you a bit... you know... thingy... whatchemacallit... forgetful. And so can cannabis. Put the two together and what have you got? Where was I?

So the sadists at Queen's Square dreamt up a series of trials to test memory and speed of thinking. The first bit was a cinch just a list of hard-to-pronounce words to read out. Even though I work for the Independent on Sunday, I don't use "demesne" very often, but it all seemed rather easy-peasy.

Then the test got harder. A tape was played, with a relentless list of numbers to add up. The tape went rather faster than my brain, and I think I flunked that one. Finally, the decider. A shopping list. I've always been bad at shopping lists. Even on a normal trip to Somerfield, I always forget something. Usually the cheese. That unforgiving glare from my wife as she unpacks... Oh God. And this list went on for ever. "Paprika, jacket, drill, parsley, vest..." I tried doing one of those mind maps you often read about in the silly season. A mental tour of Somerfield. (Paprika? It's by the Maldon salt.) But that didn't work because there were so many items that my local supermarket doesn't stock. They don't do jackets in Halstead Somerfield. By this time, the psychologist was at the end of the list. And she wanted me to repeat it. Five times. Images of my wife's scorning face shimmered in front of my eyes. I remembered about three items. And I haven't even started on the drugs yet.

Copyright 2002, Independent Newpapers