Don't make my daughter a criminal for having MS

Source: News and Star, Carlisle, UK

Published date: 7 September 1999

Author: Julian White



When multiple sclerosis struck down Lezley Gibson at 20, the doctors said she'd be in a wheelchair in five years. Fifteen years later she's still walking. Proof, her mother says, of the benefits of cannabis to MR sufferers.

Liz Nicholls, of Dalston Road, Carlisle, is backing her daughter's fight to legalise the drug. It's a campaign which could land Lezley in court after police raided her home in Alston and seized a quantity of cannabis.

Mrs Nicholls spoke to Julian Whittle

Liz Nicholls is angry. She loves her daughter and can't bear to see her suffer.

So she doesn't understand why, as she sees it, Lezley is being persecuted for doing nothing more than looking after her health.

Possession of cannabis is a criminal offence even though many MS sufferers are convinced it helps them cope with the debilitating condition.

Mrs Nicholls, 56, said: "Lezley had her first attack just after she turned 20. She had pins and needles in her foot but we had no idea what it was.

"She'd trained as a hairdresser at Thatch in Carlisle and we were in the process of buying a salon for her and her sister Paula.

"They were going on a government scheme to help people set up in business and they'd come out of a meeting with the Manpower Services Commission when Lezley felt as if everything was going to sleep.

"They decided to go for a coffee. The next thing that Paula knew was that Lezley was sitting on the steps and couldn't move.

"Every time she started up she fell back down again.

"We got her home and she still couldn't move her legs or arms and the whole of her left side of her face was mis-shapen.

"We took her straight to casualty and she was in hospital for five weeks. She was in such a state they put her on anti-depressants."

The doctors diagnosed a neuritis of the multiple sclerosis variety, and prescribed steroids which made Lezley put on seven stone.

She went into the Cumberland Infirmary a size 10 and came out a size 16.

Once home, Lezley fought against the illness which left her with little or no feeling or movement in the right side of her body.

Mrs Nicholls said: "She wanted to be independent. She would go upstairs to the bathroom crawling on her hands and knees, but she couldn't get back down.

"She would try to cuddle me but couldn't. I used to let her do things on her own because if she hadn't I would have become a slave to her.

"She would make a cup of coffee even though there would be sugar and milk all over the worktop.

"She would try to get in the bath on her own and wash her own hair, but she just wasn't capable and that upset her very much.

"I watched her one day through a crack in the door trying to put tights on with her teeth."

Doctors at the Newcastle RVI hospital confirmed a severe case of MS, and predicted Lezley would be wheelchair bound within five years.

Undaunted, Lezley, a natural right-hander, taught herself to write and put on make-up with her left hand.

Then quite unexpectedly, in 1987, she began to improve.

"We were amazed," Mrs Nicholls said. "The use of her right hand came back. It was uncanny. The doctors had been absolutely adamant that she wasn't going to get better."

Lezley sat down with her mum and told her she had started smoking cannabis. This was the reason for her improvement.

She still smokes three reefers a day to keep the MS under control.

"The only thing I can remember about cannabis is it being a social drug of the sixties which I didn't have anything to do with at the time," Mrs Nicholls said.

"I didn't even know it was illegal. I knew there was this strange smell around the house but I didn't know what it was."

Lezley, now married and living in Alston, has been on the Kilroy TV talk show to explain how cannabis helped her, and she works as secretary to former Carlisle mayor Colin Paisley, who has been asked to stand for the Legalise Cannabis Alliance.

Her commitment may have singled her out for a police raid two weeks ago. She has been arrested for possession once before, nine years ago, but charges were not brought.

This time she must wait to see if the Crown Prosecution Service believe it is "in the public interest" to take her to court.

The Government's view that it will consider legalising a cannabis-based drug for medicinal purposes if the benefits of such a drug can be proved in clinical trials.

Government-licensed research is under way but its findings are some way off.

Mrs Nicholls has no doubts.

"I've seen it with my own eyes," she said. "Cannabis calms her, soothes her, stops her being panicky and starts her being herself again.

"I can't for the life of me see what all the fuss is about. All Lezley was doing was sitting at home keeping herself well. Men abuse alcohol and knock their wives about and nothing is done about it. But smoke cannabis and they're knocking your door down.

"Why do they bother people who aren't harming anyone? Why don't they leave her alone to get on with her life?

"It must have cost thousands to raid her house. It was a five-man operation. Yet they can't get a bobby on the beat in Alston.

"All this about cannabis leading to hard drugs is garbage. Utter and absolute rubbish.

"One glass of wine can lead to alcoholism if you're so inclined but that's not a reason to ban it.

"Since the raid Lezley's been put on Valium. I'm going there tonight to take it off her. Cannabis isn't going to kill her but Valium might."

She added: "I want to stand up and be counted on this one. Lezley is fighting the corner for people who need cannabis, for people who find that it helps.

"She's determined she's going to follow this through whatever, and I want people to know that I'm behind her 100 per cent."

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