Friday, 7 November, 2003
As the biggest-ever trial of drugs based on cannabis confirms the belief that it can ease the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, BBC News Online talks to one MS patient who says they have helped him.
Paul Willmott has just returned from Amsterdam, where smoking cannabis within the city's "coffee shops" does not presently make you a criminal.
He did not partake - despite knowing the drug would ease the painful stiffness in his legs brought on by multiple sclerosis.
He was a participant in the biggest-ever study of cannabinoid drugs and MS, looking for hard evidence that the cannabis chemicals could tackle symptoms of the condition.
Although volunteers were not told until this week whether they spent a year taking the actual drug - or just a placebo dummy pill, Paul knew instinctively he was receiving the real thing.
Paul, 58, from Torquay in Devon, was enrolled in the trial by doctors at the Peninsula Medical School, part of the University of Plymouth.
He said: "I knew because I just started to feel better. I could do more, get out and about. I was sleeping better, not having to get up so often in the night.
"I have been driving, going sailing. Just feeling better, really."
Once the tablets stopped coming at the end of the trial, the benefits disappeared overnight.
"The stiffness is back - I finished last year and I have been waiting since then for the results of this study to come out - for this to be made available.
"Since I stopped I feel more conscious of my MS - before I was doing something to fight it, but now I'm doing nothing, because there is nothing else."
He could be waiting for a while yet. The business of licensing and approving new drugs is not a swift one, and it may take more clinical trial evidence before the regulators in the UK are convinced to allow MS patients their legal "cannabis".
The stigma attached to the legalising - even for medical use - of illegal recreational drugs, may delay it longer than usual.
"I know for a fact that one drug company has got these tablets just lined up on a shelf somewhere, ready to go," said Paul.
"They are just waiting for the go-ahead from the government."
"If there is enough reaction from people like me - saying that there is a benefit, surely they will have to make it available."
Paul Willmot is like many MS patients in the UK - law-abiding citizens who know that something that would help them is almost within reach, but unprepared to step over the line and obtain it illegally.
He said: "I know several people with MS who smoke cannabis because it helps them, and I have been sorely tempted to go down the road and get some for myself.
"But I'm hanging on in there, waiting for this to be made available
in a proper medical form."
Copyright © 2003, BBC