MS victims buying cannabis illegally in postcode lottery to get NHSs spray
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The cannabis-based spray, which can reduce painful muscle spasms, was approved for use on the NHS in England in 2019.
But a postcode lottery means thousands of eligible patients may be missing out on a prescription.
Susan (not her real name) was diagnosed with MS in the 1980s. She said: “I’m in a lot of pain all the time. I try to get as much done as I can in the morning because by about midday I’ve had enough.”
Now in her 60s, she wants to try Sativex but it is not available where she lives in the South-east. She said: “Around two years ago I started buying cannabis oil from Canada.
Relieved “By taking it at night I can get at least six hours sleep, sometimes more.
“I’m not saying cannabis has cured me. But it has relieved the pain and spasms a great deal.”
She added: “I’m not a person that likes to break the law.
“But when I realised how well it worked for me, I just knew I had to carry on buying it.”
Cannabis has also helped Gerry (not his real name) manage his MS symptoms. He said: “I’ve tried different forms of it, like smoking and eating cakes. I was on holiday in Holland when I tried cannabis for the first time and realised it really helped.”
Gerry, who is in his 50s and lives in the North-east, added: “It does worry me that I’m breaking the law to get [cannabis] and I’m concerned about the side-effects and that it might be doing me harm.”
MS Society research found only 49 out of 106 local NHS clinical commissioning groups in England were funding Sativex. The charity is concerned that many more patients may be turning to illegal cannabis.
COMMENT BY DR MARTIN DUDDY
WITHIN two weeks of using Sativex, one of our MS patients – who had tried four different treatments for his spasticity – said the difference in his muscle spasms was considerable.
We know it won’t work for everyone, but you can only know by trying.
There’s a real concern people are sourcing cannabis themselves if they can’t access Sativex.
Even people who would never normally dream of buying cannabis illegally read stories of its “miraculous effects” and want to try it.
But it’s impossible to know what is in a packet sold as cannabis on the street. It’s sold to get you high, meaning people are often buying the wrong kind of cannabis.
As such, they might be trying something that won’t work or could give them a bad experience, and might actually put them off trying a licensed cannabis-based product that could work.
It would have been much easier if NHS England had funded Sativex with a single countrywide process rather than having to sort this out through individual clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
Sativex is a symptomatic therapy which is legal, clean and low risk. CCGs have an obligation to fund it.
- Dr Martin Duddy is a Consultant Neurologist
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