'With cannabis, I cam control my MS rather than it controlling me.
That's a wonderful feeling.'
EXCLUSIVE: Legal victory multiple sclerosis sufferer says her only crime is to want to be well.
Source: The Journal http://www.northeastonline.co.uk
Published date: October 4, 2000
Author: Howard Walker
'WITH CANNABIS, I CAM CONTROL MY MS RATHER THAN IT CONTROLLING ME.
THAT'S A WONDERFUL FEELING.'
LEZLEY Gibson needs her illegal drugs but she's not an addict. She doesn't even qualify as a recreational drug user.
She smokes cannabis to control a medical condition - and has just come through the ordeal of a court case because of it.
"The only crime that I have committed is to want to be well," says the 36-year old multiple sclerosis sufferer from Alston, Cumbria.
It appears that the courts agree with her. Last week, the mother-of-one was cleared at Carlisle Crown Court of possessing cannabis after police found a street value of £40 of the drug at her home.
Lezley successfully argued that as a sufferer of MS for the past 15 years, she needed to use the class B drug to control pain and alleviate the symptoms of the muscle-wasting disease.
Despite the trauma of the trial ("It was horrific," she declares), the former hairdresser insists she will continue using cannabis and campaign for the drug to be legally used by other MS sufferers.
"I will keep taking my medicine and hope that people leave me alone," she says.
"Cannabis stops all the twitching associated with MS and helps me to function normally. It eases problems with going to the toilet and it just generally steadies things out.
"When you smoke it medicinally, you don't get high. You just come up to the same level as everyone else and it's good to be able to feel like that. With cannabis, I can control my MS instead of it controlling me and that's a wonderful feeling. I believe that if I hadn't been smoking cannabis, I would have ended up in a wheelchair."
That was exactly the prognosis when Lezley was diagnosed with the condition 15 years ago. She had been about to start up her own hair salon and was on the verge of a very promising career - during her training, she had beaten now-famous hairdressers Nicky Clark and Andrew Collinge in apprentice competition. But when doctors told her she had MS and predicted she would be in a wheelchair within five years, her world fell apart.
"I cried for about three days solid - I was devastated. The only advice I was given was to not eat butter and I quickly realised I was very much on my own."
The steroids Lezley was given to build up her muscles only made her overweight, aggressive and gave her skin problems. She tried other prescription drugs, including valium, but nothing seemed to work until she came across cannabis.
"I read in a magazine about a sufferer who had used cannabis had had got a lot of relief from it. Then one time I was out with some recreational smokers and I got passed a spliff.
"Within minutes of smoking it, I felt nearly as normal and as good as I had been before I got MS."
She found out more about the drug and about other sufferers' use of it, and tried various forms of taking it (tea, pipes, eating) before concluding that smoking it in a reefer, or spliff, with tobacco was the quickest and most effective in relieving her symptoms. These have included temporary paralysis, loss of speech and vision and loss of balance.
Lezley has been using the drug for 12 years and now she smokes between three and five reefers per day. She stresses that the cannabis she gets is medicinal and not "street" cannabis and says she gets it by mail order.
"In the past, i have had to go to drug dealers because you can't buy it from the chemist and it was horrible. It's not somewhere I would have normally gone."
She is very keen to draw the line between recreational and medicinal use of the drug. "I have a 14-year-old daughter and I don't smoke it in front of her. One of the reasons why i want to speak out is because as a parent part of your job is to teach your children right and wrong and so on and I'm sitting there knowing in my head that I am breaking the law as it currently stands.
"As long as I'm not bothering anyone else, I can't see the problem."
Lezley and husband Mark say they have had overwhelming support from family, friends, fellow MS sufferers and people in Alston.
Their living room is full of cards and bouquets from supporters and when we go outside to take pictures, Lezley os greeted warmly by passers-by.
"I've nothing but masses of support from people - we couldn't have done it without them and our legal team," she smiles.
Lezley now hopes the trial and the surrounding publicity will encourage the Government to look again at the issue.
"A criminal court is not the place for a disabled person to be," she says. "It shouldn't be a crime to want to be well."
The MS society has backed the legalisation of cannabis solely for medicinal use and the British Medical Association (BMA) has for years been calling for research into the therapeutic use.
Trials are being carried out in Plymouth on cannabis-based medicines for treating MS, but the Home Office has said there are no plans to legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes.