Years of studies have proven the numerous medical benefits that come from the cannabis plant, which is why over half of US states have legalized it for medical use. In the UK, they have been slow to see the medical benefits of marijuana as adequate proof for lifting it from its status as a Schedule I dangerous drug. It took a desperate mother months of campaigning to convince the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to make an exception for her 12-year-old son Billy Caldwell, who suffers from intractable epilepsy.
In ten years, the only medication to help with Billy’s daily, potentially life-threatening seizures has been cannabis oil, or cannabidoil (CBD oil) as it is referred to in the US. Since Billy began using cannabis oil to treat his condition in 2016, he rarely experienced a seizure. Last year, he reached 300 consecutive days of being seizure-free. Before that, he sometimes had up to 100 seizures per day.
Then, last year, the UK government suddenly decided to retract their permission of Caldwell’s use of cannabis oil, despite the success of the treatment. They ordered his doctor to stop prescribing it, leaving his mother Charlotte no choice but to obtain it elsewhere when his supply ran out. On June 11, 2018, Caldwell openly brought back seven bottles of cannabis oil, a six-month supply, from Canada into Heathrow airport. Customs officials confiscated all of it.
The confiscation led to the inevitable return of Billy’s seizures. He was admitted to London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital less then a week later. The UK government continued to resist allowing the boy to be treated with cannabis oil until his condition turned life-threatening before their eyes and they finally gave in. They granted Caldwell an individual exemption for 20 days. Unsurprisingly, his condition has remarkably improved since then.
There is no hiding the positive effects of cannabis oil in treating even severe epilepsy, but treating children with a drug that is still considered dangerous according to the law may raise ethical questions. Yet parents whose children suffer from epileptic seizures beg to differ. Some parents have said medication with cannabis oil has reduced their children’s seizures by 80 percent.
The UK government is now actively undergoing a review of their current cannabis laws, which will hopefully lead to a significant policy shift. Billy Caldwell and many others who suffer from epilepsy as well as other conditions like autism are counting on it. In many ways, it is thanks to Charlotte Caldwell that these changes in cannabis law are much closer to being implemented. A former government advisor on drugs, David Nutt, has commented that the time has come for this policy shift. Another former Conservative leader William Hague has even suggested that cannabis be legalized for recreational use.
Reforming the cannabis drug laws in the UK is not as easy as it may seem, claim officials. This is due to the fact that the cannabis plant contains hundreds of chemicals and medical testing cannot be performed in the country until the drug is no longer considered Schedule I. Currently, the UK does allow the use of the substance CBD in medicines, but anything containing THC, cannabis’ psychoactive component, is off-limits. Caldwell’s epilepsy medication contains 2 percent THC.
Many think it is entirely unethical to force parents to choose between an unreasonable law forbidding cannabis and their child’s life. Charlotte Caldwell clearly chooses her son and is willing to break the law if necessary. She has explicated stated that the complexity of reforming the law won’t stand in the way of Billy’s health. If the drug reform takes too long, she will return to Canada to bring back more cannabis oil for her son, seeming confident that the government won’t confiscate it again.