October 7, 2002, Monday
The Independent (London)
THE PILLS Hazel Walker swallowed as part of the Medical Research Council's (MRC) cannabis trial helped her get out of her wheelchair and walk. She took them for 15 weeks last year and the effect was dramatic.
"I could walk a couple of lengths of the hallway and do simple things that other people take for granted. It was brilliant, really brilliant," she said. She still doesn't know what was in the pills because the trial was "double blind" to prevent both the patients and their doctors knowing who was taking the active ingredient and who was taking the placebo.
But the improvement in her condition was so striking that after a fortnight's break at the end of the trial she elected to go back on the pills for another year and continued to reap the benefits.
"The first week after I came off the pills I really went downhill. I tried to do things I had got used to and I found I couldn't. When I went back on them I noticed a change again - more mobility and fewer spasms. It is very hard to stand at the sink and wash the dishes if you have got spasms in your legs."
Her love life improved, too. "It was brilliant to be able to stand up. It is difficult to get passionate stuck in a wheelchair."
Aged 47, she has had multiple sclerosis for seven years. She is confined to a wheelchair and when her husband, a fisherman, is away, she needs two carers to get her up and dressed in the morning and put her to bed at night at their home in Plymouth.
The only drugs that have helped during those seven years have been steroids, but they have damaging effects if taken long-term. Medicines based on cannabis are her only hope but now they, too, have been taken away.
Funding was only available to provide one year's supply of pills. For Hazel, they ran out this summer. The MRC's researchers applied to the Multiple Sclerosis Society for financial help to continue supplying the drugs, but the society declined.
Hazel said: "I was left in limbo. I was annoyed, to be honest. The MS Society says it won't fund the drug, yet it gives benefits to people with MS. It's frustrating."
She experimented with herbal cannabis for a while: "I tried it for a fortnight. I sat watching telly and started laughing. I don't know whether it helped because I was giggling all the time."
"I didn't fancy going out if I was going to be in the street giggling. People already think if you are in a wheelchair you are practically braindead and if they saw me giggling they would probably think I had lost it altogether. You need your wits about you. My hope now is that the trial is successful, the drug is licensed and I can start taking it again."
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