More MS news articles for Nov 2001

New relief for seriously ill?

Tuesday,27 November 2001
By Anita Anandarajah

HABITUAL takers of drugs such as marijuana usually encounter public sanction. But what of those who have resort to regular usage of some of these drugs in order to counter the effects of a debilitating disease?

Thousands of patients are currently using cannabis to help them control serious medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, AIDS and cancer.

Claire Hodges, 44, from Leeds, England, has been smoking cannabis for 10 years now. Hodges suffers from multiple sclerosis (see sidebar).

“Prior to my illness, I had only experimented with pot as a student in the 70s. Even then, I felt it was somewhat safe compared to other drugs,” explained Hodges.

A graduate of Oxford University, with a degree in Greek and Latin under her belt, Hodges produced medical and scientific documentaries.

While filming in Bangladesh in 1982, she suffered from fatigue and experienced strange sensations in her face and limbs; she had contracted a rare form of malaria. Later, while in Japan, she suffered from nausea, and poor balance when walking. Upon her return to England, her speech deteriorated.

A visit to the neurologist confirmed that she had multiple sclerosis.

Initial treatment with steroids left Hodges with a weight problem, acne, and paranoia.

After the birth of her second child, Hodges began feeling sicker, experienced stiffness and had discomfort in her bladder. She had to go to the toilet up to 12 times at night.

The medication prescribed for nausea made her drowsy, that for her bladder gave her bad headaches and blurred her vision while the Valium for her muscle spasms left her feeling disorientated.

Hodges became depressed.

After numerous failed attempts to counter her suffering with prescribed medication, Hodges turned to cannabis. She first heard about cannabis as a possible treatment for MS through a friend who showed her an article in an American magazine. A recreational cannabis smoker offered to show her how to smoke the drug.

“I asked all the basic questions: How do you roll a joint? How long will the sensation last? Will I suffer a hangover the next morning?

“The physical relief was almost immediate. I slept well that night. I felt comfortable with my body after all these years,” she explained. The MS symptoms reduced considerably. “I can now be cheerful about my condition,” she adds.

“When the MS is bad, I become introspective. Thanks to the drug, I can now cook meals and go out to the shops if someone is with me.” Hodges walks with the aid of a walking stick and is often accompanied by one of her two sons.

Cannabis, also known by a variety of street names — grass, pot, weed, trees, reefer — is still illegal around the world with the exception of a select few countries such as Holland.

In recent years, MS patients like Hodges have turned to cannabis as an instant source of pain relief, albeit having to resort to the black market to obtain their supply. Drugs dealers become their doctors.

“The best medical advice I ever received is from a drug dealer. He told me it is best to take small amounts regularly, rather than all at one go,” said the attractive brunette.

While some mix the drug into their drink, or use it in cookie recipes, Hodges prefers to smoke it.

“I smoke a joint with herbs, not tobacco, before bed, and find that it helps me sleep better. Tobacco has carcinogenic content, and therefore it is addictive. Also, there is a problem of dosage if taken any other way, because you won’t know just how much is destroyed in the baking process for instance. This way, I can control the amount I consume,” she added.

Interestingly, Hodges used to grow cannabis in her garden. Seedlings were obtained legally through mail order. However, living in the vicinity of a police station left her uneasy so her husband returned to performing runs to the local dealer.

People question the influence of her drug use on her children. “I have been completely open with my children, telling them everything I know about cannabis, and why it is illegal, but they find it all very confusing, because they can see how much it helps me.”

The question that begs to be asked is this: Judging by its obvious benefits, why isn’t cannabis being legalised?

The justification is possible widespread addiction.

Hodges refutes claims of patients becoming addicted to cannabis. On a personal level, she finds that she hasn’t had to increase the dosage of her medication over the years. “While the average individual may experience a high after smoking cannabis, the MS patient will experience relief from some, if not all of her symptoms. I know I’m not an addict because there are times when I can’t get cannabis, for instance when I’m travelling abroad. There are no withdrawal symptoms, but I do feel unwell.

In March 2001, the House of Lords committee recommended the legalisation of cannabis. It also called for research into developing cannabis-based medicines to be speeded up.

“There is no hidden agenda, ... we (MS patients) have never pressed for the legalisation of cannabis. We have been taken seriously,” said Hodges.

Claire Hodges is a member of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics.

Copyright © The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia)