Face it, this is exactly how too many people in Britain see medicinal cannabis users. It’s not true. It’s not fair. It’s unjust. Almost everything about it is wrong. The one thing that’s right – is that it’s a stereotype some people keep on reinforcing.
So we have to educate and inform those who have the power to change the law. We also have to adjust our aims and our expectations to be realistic in the eyes of those we need to persuade. It’s a big enough leap to convince people that cannabis can be a safe and effective medicine. In 2015, in the UK, the idea that we are going to convince politicians and medical policymakers that we “grow our own medicine” is fantasy. It is not going to happen.
Of course, many people have to grow their own at present because they have no choice. Particularly now that NICE have recommended against Sativex there is, for most people, no other option.
Effective campaigning is about focus, ruthless focus on a precise target. For medicinal cannabis, wider issues of human rights, individuality, ecology, lifestyle, – these are irrelevant. Do those some other time. Real and effective campaigning is like a job interview. You behave and dress in a way you believe will win you credit with your your prospective employer. That’s what we must do if we want to persuade people and change minds.
So the image of medicinal cannabis users we present is crucial. When government ministers see that we are ordinary, decent, hardworking people with families, careers, homes, pets, elderly relatives that we care about – and all we are trying to do is improve our health – that’s what makes the difference.
Believe me, I have seen it with my own eyes. When we first met Norman Baker last year, he was far from convinced about medicinal cannabis. He was pretty dubious about it in fact, as are many. He said initially there was only “limited evidence”. Only when he met some people and listened to their stories did he become open to considering the evidence that we offered. I swear, I actually watched his mind changing, particularly as he listened to Lara Smith explain how she copes with constant pain and bringing up three young children.
Later, Norman told me that when he spoke to Theresa May about it, she simply didn’t understand. She couldn’t conceive that these scumbag potheads and druggies have anything to do with the consumption of a therapeutic and beneficial plant.
It is a step too far to try and include GYO in the campaign for medicinal cannabis. We are simply laughed at. No one suggests growing opium poppies or willow trees or deadly nightshade to use as medicine. It undermines all the effort to provide good scientific evidence and a responsible, coherent argument. GYO cannot provide the standards of quality, consistency, safety (free from mould, fertiliser and pesticide residues, etc) that other medicines have to comply with.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for GYO but I’m a weirdo, one of those eccentrics who also grows his own tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables. Most people prefer to buy them in Sainsbury’s and that’s exactly how it will be when cannabis is finally legalised. Most people will prefer it in a nice plastic tray with a film wrapper and a label telling them exactly what they are getting.
GYO must wait for wider decriminalisation or legalisation. Bringing it into the argument for permitting medicinal use is the cannabis campaign shooting itself in the foot – yet again!
Oliver Letwin MP is, according to The Independent, “probably the most powerful person in the government after the Prime Minister and Chancellor”.
He is the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the implementation of government policy. He holds the ancient title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He is a member of 13 of the 14 Cabinet committees and chair of three of them, more than anyone other than Cameron. He is now chair of the most powerful of them, the Home Affairs committee, which Theresa May would have expected to chair and he also sits on nine of the 10 new “Implementation Taskforces”. Cameron is said to have told him “I need you with me every day”.
An extraordinarily powerful and influential man. I met with him last week to put the case for reform of policy on medicinal cannabis. He listened attentively, asked searching questions, evidently has a good understanding of science and medicines regulation. In the end, he agreed to ask Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to meet with me and a delegation of medicinal cannabis users. We agreed that the Home Office is no longer the route to reform. The word is that if the Department of Health calls for a new policy then the Home Office will comply. Theresa May has been sidelined on this issue. Her minister of state for drugs policy, Mike Penning, seems to be nothing but a mouthpiece for Home Office civil servants. Quite properly and at last, medicinal cannabis is being seen as a health issue and not one of law enforcement or criminal justice.
So we could not have a more important opportunity. Mr Letwin has now confirmed to me in writing that he will “..investigate the question of prescription cannabis for relief of medical conditions. I will start the process of talking to people in MHRA, Public Health England and so forth to try to get a sense of the pros and cons.”
Although he has not yet indicated to me that he supports our cause, he seemed particularly perplexed that cannabis is a schedule 1 drug whereas heroin is schedule 2 and may be prescribed by a doctor. It is clear that he recognises there is medicinal value in cannabis.
To have Oliver Letwin pursuing our cause through government is great progress. Although the loss of our Liberal Democrat allies has been a setback, it seems that the issue of medicinal cannabis has momentum. We need to keep on keeping on. Nothing works better than getting in front of government minsters and showing them that most people who use medicinal cannabis are responsible members of society, doing the best they can to contribute, holding down a job where possible, looking after their families and trying to maintain their health.
I sense that the optimism we felt before the election was not misplaced. Engaging with government, turning away from irresponsible protest and putting our arguments forward with courtesy and evidence is what will achieve our goal.
CLEAR is launching a new recruitment drive for its Medicinal Cannabis Users Panel. If you use cannabis as medicine, joining the panel is the most effective thing you can do both to advance the campaign and, in some instances, gain legitimate access to prescribed Bedrocan medicinal cannabis.
The panel has proved itself to be the most effective campaigning method ever used in the UK. As a direct result of the efforts of panel members, in the last two years there have been more meetings with government minsters, officials and senior MPs than the whole campaign has managed in the last 50 years.
You must be a member of CLEAR to join the panel, then you complete a detailed questionnaire providing information on your condition(s) and how cannabis helps. Each applicant is then interviewed by telephone to develop an individual plan. This will depend on a number of factors, such as your relationship with your doctor, your MP, how much time you have available and whether you are prepared to tell your story to the media.
If your doctor is prepared to help, there is now an established route to getting medicinal cannabis prescribed and legally imported into the UK. CLEAR has developed this process through experience working with doctors, MPs, the Home Office and the Border Force. We also have crucial support from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drug Policy Reform and a number of members of the House of Lords. This is on a private prescription basis only. The prescription has to be very carefully written, using exactly the correct wording and, to begin with, you will have to travel to Holland in person to have the prescription dispensed at a pharmacy. Thereafter it may be possible to have repeat prescriptions sent through the post.
Bedrocan is the Dutch government’s official producer of medicinal cannabis. Five different varieties are available at a cost of approximately seven to eight euros per gram. See full details of the different products here.
All panel members are guided in how to approach their doctor and MP. Initial contact should be made by letter or email but then it is important to meet your doctor and MP face to face and provide them with high quality scientific evidence to support your case. CLEAR will offer guidance and help at every stage. If you wish then a member of our executive committee will accompany you to meetings to help you present your case. Whether or not your doctor is prepared to write a prescription for you, we aim to continue leading delegations of medicinal users to meet ministers. We have seen again and again what an impact this can have. When senior politicians who have no experience of medicinal cannabis meet genuine, decent, ordinary people with families and careers who tell their story with sincerity and conviction, it has an enormous impact.
If you live in the UK and are interested in joining the panel, please email a brief explanation of your interest to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please do not go into great detail at this stage. Applications should be no more than 200 words. We will respond to you with a questionnaire within seven to 10 days.
Today, Baroness Molly Meacher asked a question about cannabis in the House of Lords .
There is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about what happened, so I shall do my best to explain.
This was not a full debate. There never was any prospect of any law being changed. It was simply a question, which would be answered by the government spokesman and Lady Meacher would then have the opportunity to ask a further, supplementary question. In the process, other members of the House would be able to interject and make their own comments.
The question was whether cannabis could be re-scheduled, out of schedule one, which determines that it has no medicinal value, to schedule two or three which would allow doctors to prescribe it and also enable researchers to access and use cannabis more easily in studies and clinical trials.
The government behaved exactly as expected. The most generous interpretation is that the spokesman, Lord Bates, was misinformed. His first response to Lady Meacher’s question was to parrot the Home Office’s usual line on cannabis about it being a harmful drug.
This of course, is nothing to do with medicinal use. Most medicines are far more harmful than cannabis and any potential harms are traded off against therapeutic benefit.
I know some people are already accusing Lord Bates of being a ‘liar’ but this is not true. He simply has no idea what he is talking about and his briefing from Home Office officials is designed not to inform but to deflect, confuse and retain control within the bureaucracy. The claim that the Advisory Council recommends against medicinal cannabis is factually incorrect. The ACMD is not constituted to advise on the medicinal benefits of any drug.
So ignore what the government said. It is largely irrelevant to the process of informing and changing minds amongst those in power. They will instruct officials and spokespeople as necessary once they understand a more successful path forwards.
The rest of the debate was almost all positive. Lord Dubs succumbed to the ‘skunk’ myth but who can blame him. given the level of propaganda and hysteria promoted even by ‘public service broadcasters’ such as Channel 4 and and some of our so-called eminent ‘scientists’. Lord Howarth of Newport hit the nail on the head and referred to the terrible difficulty of those who need access to Bedrocan. He is a stalwart ally of a few, fortunate CLEAR members whose doctors have had the courage to prescribe.
This mini debate was good news. It was another brick in the wall. Clearly, attitudes are changing and the facts are beginning to overtake the myths. Many Lords and MPs are on our side.
As ever, the way forward is relentless, individual, lobbying and informing. We must keep telling truth to power, challenging misinformation and providing knowledge.
Today, in the House of Lords, progress was made.
Sometime after 3.00pm, tomorrow, Wednesday, 17th June 2015, Baroness Molly Meacher will ask a question in the House of Lords on the re-scheduling of cannabis to permit it to be prescribed by doctors for medicinal use. Watch it here on Parliament TV.
Behind this is a report ‘Regulating Cannabis for Medical Use in the UK’, authored by Professor Val Curran of UCL and Frank Warburton of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform (APPG). This sets out an argument for moving cannabis from schedule one to schedule two or three, enabling doctors to prescribe it and facilitating further research on its therapeutic properties. It also endorses the central theme of CLEAR’s medicinal cannabis campaign – that UK doctors should be permitted to prescribe products from Bedrocan, the medicinal cannabis producer regulated by the Dutch government.
The UK is now a very long way behind the rest of the western world on enabling access to cannabis as medicine. The UK is second only to places like Indonesia, China and Singapore in ignoring evidence and basing drugs policy on prejudice and scaremongering. The only significant difference is that we don’t execute people for possession of drugs.
In Europe more than 250 million people now have legal access to medicinal cannabis, 210 million in the USA, 35 million in Canada and 8 million in Israel. A few CLEAR members, with the support of their doctors and the APPG have managed to obtain legal access to Bedrocan medicinal cannabis from pharmacies in Holland. The struggle involved though is horrendous. It means travelling to Holland, declaring the medicine to customs on return and legality depends on exactly how the prescription is phrased. Get it wrong and both doctor and patient could face criminal charges. It also depends on the mood and knowledge of the Border Force officer on duty at customs. If he or she has had a bad day, as one CLEAR member discovered, that’s £500 of medicine plus travelling expenses, that will never be seen again.
Just a few days ago, Lord Winston, the British public’s favourite doctor, also endorsed medicinal cannabis, saying:
“When I was chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee some years ago, we looked intensively at the medicinal uses of cannabis. One of the pieces of evidence was very compelling and enabled us to think about rather permissive legislation. It was that a number of people who had medical conditions, such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, took cannabis, which was not prescribed, to relieve their symptoms.” Source
This reform is long overdue. UK policy on medicinal cannabis is deeply cruel, evidence-free and based on the views of the tabloid press rather than medical experts, although even that is changing with today’s story in The Sun ‘Cannabis: Is it a curse or cure? Three readers reveal how controversial herb has saved their lives’
CLEAR produced its own report earlier this year ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’, a comprehensive and up to date review of the peer-reviewed, published evidence.
CLEAR has published a revised and updated version of its leaflet on medicinal cannabis. This will shortly be available for purchase and for inclusion in membership packs. As with the previous version we shall also be carrying our carefully targeted and timed leafleting campaigns. Each year we choose a relevant day to saturate Parliament Square and Whitehall with the CLEAR message.
If you have an event or an opportunity to distribute leaflets, please get in touch. We are always ready to consider a special print run.
The report details an extraordinary quantity of peer-reviewed, published evidence that demonstrates the efficacy and safety of using cannabis to treat a wide range of conditions. It looks in detail at five therapeutic areas where the evidence is strongest: Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer, Chronic Pain, Crohn’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
Archaeological and written evidence suggests mankind has used cannabis for medicinal purposes for as long as 10,000 years. In the 19th century nearly half of all medicines in the British and US pharmacopeia contained cannabis. With the rise of new pharmaceutical medicines it fell into disuse but in 1996 California introduced the first ‘medical marijuana’ laws. Now 210 million people in 34 US states and 250 million people in nine European countries have some form of legal access.
Peter Reynolds, author of the report, said:
“This review finally does away with the myth that there is no proof of the value of medicinal cannabis. There is high quality evidence available from dozens of different sources, including double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. No one who examines the evidence can be in any doubt, any longer. This is a medicine that saves lives and rescues people from pain, suffering and disability with far fewer dangerous and unpleasant side effects than pharmaceutical products. We must move urgently to allow doctors to start prescribing and introduce professional training in the use of cannabis medicines”
The report is available to download from the CLEAR website: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/Reports/medicinal_cannabis-_the_evidence_v1.1.pdf
CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform is the UK’s leading drugs policy reform group with more than 330,000 followers. It aims to end the prohibition of cannabis most urgently for those who need it as medicine. CLEAR also advocates replacing the anarchic mess of prohibition with a framework of regulation which would allow proper control of the product’s strength and quality while providing protection for children and the vulnerable.
CLEAR’s policies are based on independent, expert research carried out by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit in 2011: http://clear-uk.org/media/uploads/2011/09/TaxUKCan.pdf
CLEAR’s detailed proposals for cannabis regulation, ‘How To Regulate Cannabis In Britain’: http://clear-uk.org/static/media/uploads/2013/10/CLEAR-plan-V2.pdf
Cheryl Shuman claims she survived cancer because of her drug use. Now, she has her own cannabis farm and hosts marijuana parties for Hollywood A-listers. It’s all legal, she says
Cheryl Shuman is talking me through how she kick-starts her day. “I’ll have a cannabis juice smoothie,” she explains. “Kale, cannabis juice, carrot juice, apple. That’s usually my breakfast.
“And for lunch I’ll generally have a grilled chicken breast with a raw cannabis salad – so I’ve got leafy greens along with some raw cannabis leaves. And the dressing will be cannabis-infused. So will the chicken breast. It helps with my digestion.“And I’ll usually have some medicated [with cannabis] pretzels and pecans, which I like to nosh on.”
Added to this, at approximately one-hour intervals, she’ll take a hit on a pen-like device that delivers a lungful of a marijuana vapour rich in THC, the compound that gets you high.
Wow, I say. Shuman is a cannabis advocate, and at some point in the not too distant future, she hopes that a significant number of her fellow Americans will be living like this, and perfectly legally. But surely, if I tried this diet I’d quickly become hopelessly, comically wasted?
“I’d definitely say I have a pretty high tolerance,” says Shuman. “I mean, do I seem stoned to you?”
The answer – remarkably, given the Goliath scale of her cannabinoid intake – is that 54-year-old Shuman appears to be one of the least stoned people I’ve ever met. Blonde and chatty, she manages to be both delicately petite and a looming presence, all at the same time. In a black power suit and chunky silver necklace, she looks like a high-class estate agent. Her power to recall names and statistics is striking, and she doesn’t appear to have the munchies. She never uses the word “dude”. She never breaks into fits of giggles. She is the very antithesis of the blissed-out hippy, the brooding hip-hop aficionado or the bong-ripping student of marijuana cliché.
This, though, all makes sense. Because Shuman’s mission is to upend what it means to be a stoner. At a time when cannabis regulation is loosening across the United States, she wants to rid weed of stigma and drag it into polite society – in part by rebranding it as a luxury product, as delectable as any fine wine.
Her critics have called her a fraud, a snake-oil saleswoman and a drug addict. But she says her ultimate ambition is to become the “Martha Stewart of marijuana”. Her plans include everything from a cannabis lip balm to pot-friendly retirement homes. And given the interest being shown in the industry by some of the world’s canniest businessmen – Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor who made $1 billion from Facebook, is the latest to plunge in – who knows? Perhaps Shuman really could realise her ambition to become the queen of the cannabis world.
To witness her in action, I’ve travelled to Beverly Hills to see Shuman host one of her invitation-only cannabis dinner parties – events at which it’s not only the soufflés that get baked. Shuman will supply a collection of wealthy guests with cannabis in a dizzying variety of forms. Attendees regularly include celebrities, Hollywood agents and other high-flying professionals, she says. One of her recent cannabis dinners counted two A-list actresses as guests, she adds. (She tells me the names, but then says I can’t write about them.)
Her collective – the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club – is a brand name for the high-grade weed produced on her own farm. One hundred core members contribute to the farm’s upkeep, and it has supplied cannabis to about 2,000 registered patients through the dinner parties and other events. (Cannabis is legal only for medical use in California.)
She likes to say she’s redefining “high society” and according to Shuman, her “couture cannabis” business is booming.
“The luxury market, the affluent market, it hadn’t been tapped,” she explains.
Shuman typically holds one pot-themed dinner party a week, but can do as many as ten in a month. Any fees that guests pay for cannabis can only cover costs, since making a profit from the drug would be illegal under Californian law. They can, however, be asked to donate to charity, and have been known to give $5,000 apiece, she says.
The parties also produce publicity – and this is where Shuman makes her money.
She says she has 25 full-time PR clients, all of them cannabis-related businesses, who pay her retainers of as much as $20,000 a month. They range from manufacturers of smoking paraphernalia, to a tech company working on a dating app that promises to connect pot lovers.
This evening’s party will take place at a sprawling mock-Tuscan mansion on a smart secluded street off Sunset Boulevard. Most of the guests are yet to arrive, but a camera crew is following the preparations being made by Shuman and her cook, a very nice, extremely mellow chap called Colin, who is 6ft 4in and has the kind of ridiculously handsome features that belong on the cover of a Mills & Boon novel. Colin has been smoking pot since he was nine years old, he tells me, and right now he appears to be unabashedly stoned. He concentrates hard as he tells the TV host how he’s going to broil a hunk of wild salmon, after dousing it with olive oil, garlic, lemon and – of course – cannabis. On the counter top are half a dozen tubs full of weed. If anybody’s peckish there is a dish of cannabis-infused pretzels.
I’m starving – but I have to drive home and I daren’t eat anything.
Shuman offers the TV host who is interviewing her a “medicated candy-glazed pecan” – a nut spiked with yet more marijuana.
“You don’t feel the effect for 45 minutes,” she warns him. Shuman tilts herself towards the lens. Years ago she was a star saleswoman on QVC, the shopping channel, and she can still turn it on for the cameras. “But, you know, here’s an interesting fact: nobody, in the history of the world, has ever overdosed on cannabis,” she says.
The TV guy smiles, and reaches for another pecan.
Out of view of the camera stands Urban Smedeby, a Swedish investment banker who has come to see Shuman because he has $5 million – £3.3 million – to invest in the cannabis industry. He is one of the few people here who isn’t at least a little stoned. “Everybody is getting more and more wasted,” he whispers. “This is not my usual environment.
That the pot business in America is in a state of flux is no secret. In 2012, two states – Colorado and Washington – legalised recreational marijuana use for the first time.
My own interactions with pot aficionados hint at the heady pace of change. Take, for instance, the first time I met Rick Cusick, associate publisher of High Times magazine, a bible for America’s cannabis users for 40 years. It was in 2013, in an agreeably down-at-heel bar in Denver, and Cusick’s luxuriant white beard lent him more than a passing resemblance to Gandalf. He told me about how High Times was holding a massive cannabis-themed rave the next day. Snoop Dogg was to be given a lifetime achievement award.
Cusick went on to explain how he’d be judging the Cannabis Cup, a competition to grow the finest weed. “People laugh at marijuana culture, but the real connoisseurs have standards of performance that make the Indy 500 look like a kids’ tricycle race,” he said.
In September last year I interviewed him again. This time we talked by telephone, about how High Times planned to launch a venture capital fund.
Still though, for all the corporatisation, the pot business is shrouded by a veil of sketchiness. Medical cannabis was legalised in California in 1996. But Frank Marino, another investment banker attending Shuman’s dinner party, whom I meet by the poolside gazebo, says the industry’s illegal heritage is still evident.
“How do I put this? Anybody who has been in the marijuana business for a few years was basically OK with operating illicitly, criminally – right? A master grower today was a dope dealer a few years ago,” he says.
Marino sees the transition now under way as akin to the fall of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc. “Cannabis is already a $30-$50 billion [£20-£30 billion] industry, and it’s going from illicit to legal now. The industry is in its nascent stage. It’s replete with opportunities.”
If that Soviet analogy really does hold, then Shuman wants to be an oligarch. She has plans for numerous pot-related businesses. Stiletto Stoners will be a marijuana-themed clothing line and accessories including glamorous gold-plated vapourisers, for inhaling the drug without burning it.
Shaman Therapeutics will specialise in herbal remedies, and she also wants to start a chain of cannabis-friendly holiday resorts.
“This is the only way, right now, that the American dream is still possible. It’s the only way,” she says of the cannabis industry.
“Our economy is in the crapper. People have lost their jobs, their homes. They’ve lost hope. Cannabis is a plant that not only heals a multitude of illnesses – it can also heal our economy. It can provide jobs, a whole new industry. This is the birth of that whole new industry. And the people who are in at the ground floor now are going to be billionaires. They’re going to be on the covers of magazines. It’s already happening. It’s already a $47 billion industry – bigger than the NFL, bigger than corn, wheat and soy beans combined.”
In fact, she has her sights set well beyond the US. “In Israel, I’m known as the Mother Teresa of marijuana,” she tells me.
First, though, pot needs to become respectable. And to enable that, Shuman reckons a couple of things have to happen. First, she believes that celebrities “coming out” as cannabis users (a process she likens to somebody revealing that they are gay) will foster societal acceptance.
Second, she says the movement needs a leader – a modern equivalent of Pauline Sabin, who spearheaded the campaign to overturn prohibition in the Thirties.
She has, she says, a candidate in mind: “I know media; I know celebrities; I’ve got a huge pair of balls – I’ll do it!”
Now, let’s be clear – the precise scale and success of Shuman’s business empire I’ve found tricky to pin down. She owns a pot farm – but for legal reasons it must operate on a non-profit basis. Most of her other ventures appear to be in the planning stages. But certainly, she’s made a mark. “Shuman’s ability to generate publicity means that she cannot be excluded from activism conversations,” said The New York Times recently. The question many onlookers ask, however, is whether Shuman is more interested in beckoning forth a new era of enlightened cannabis use, or in selling herself. Some see her as a harbinger of crass commercialism – an anathema to the old-school hippy types who see weed as a gift to be shared.
Others will view her as a reckless champion of a dangerous drug. Smoking extra-strong varieties of cannabis could be the cause of a quarter of all new cases of psychotic mental conditions such as schizophrenia, a six-year study recently concluded. Researchers found that about 60,000 people in Britain are currently living with conditions involving hallucinations and paranoid episodes brought on by the use of high-potency skunk.
Faced with such claims, Shuman can launch a volley of her own statistics: pot is less dangerous than alcohol, a recent study found, she notes. And a number of studies have suggested that some cannabis compounds may be useful to treat psychosis.
The one thing that isn’t in question is Shuman’s chutzpah. She was born in poverty and raised on a tobacco farm in Buena Vista, a rural hamlet in Appalachian Ohio. “We didn’t have running water and electricity until I was almost 14. We worked hard … It makes me grateful for everything I have,” she says.
As a young woman, she started out by publishing a newsletter about collecting money-saving coupons, before getting a TV gig as the “Coupon Queen”. At 23, she was a single mother when she headed to Los Angeles to try to find her daughter’s father. She spent three weeks living in her car before landing a job in a spectacles store in the suburb of Encino.
It was at this point, Shuman says, that her life took its first extraordinary turn. One day, Michael Jackson, who lived not far away, pitched up in her store in disguise. She offered to bring a selection of glasses to his house, for him to try in private. The Prince of Pop took her up on the offer, she says, and before long she had started another business – Starry Eyes Optical Services – which would supply eyewear for films such as Terminator 2, When Harry Met Sally and Pretty Woman. Before long she was appearing on QVC, as the “Optician to the Stars”.
In 1995, however, her life took what she says was a darker turn. She sued Steven Seagal, the action star, for alleged sexual harassment. She also alleged that Seagal used a notoriously dirty Hollywood private eye to try to intimidate her. (Her lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.)
In the wake of the Seagal scandal, her business collapsed. Fearing some sort of retribution, she says she went underground for several years. By now she had two daughters by two men, and for lengthy spells each child went to stay with their father.
Then, in 2006, Shuman’s life took perhaps the darkest twist of all: she learnt that she had ovarian cancer. She underwent a radical hysterectomy, and part of her colon and bladder were also removed.
She was, she says, on end-of-life care (she had even snipped out a magazine coupon to get a discount on a coffin), when a friend offered to supply her with cannabis. “The worst that can happen is that you’ll die with a smile on your face,” she says she was told. Shuman began taking doses of cannabis oil, the first batches smuggled into the hospital. The impact, she claims, was remarkable.
“Within 30 days, I was off my morphine pump and all the pharmaceuticals I was being given. I was able to bathe myself and walk. At 60 days, I was able to drive. At 90 days, I was back to work full-time.’’
She adds: “It helped to treat many symptoms, from nausea to anxiety, and shrank the tumours that I had.”
Those are big claims, and since Shuman was not part of any medical trial they can’t be verified. But if she is going to be a force for good, odds are it will be in the field of medical marijuana.
On the roof terrace of the dinner party mansion, I meet Jacquelyn Sponseller, who is 26, looks like a young Salma Hayek and is said to be one of the most accomplished growers of premium-quality weed on the US Pacific seaboard. “I’m just going to kill two birds,” she says when we sit down to talk. She packs a small glass pipe with a nugget of pungent cannabis bud. “Interview and medicate …”
Sponseller is thinking of adopting Shuman as a mentor, and in many ways Sponseller is the perfect poster girl for Shuman’s mission of making pot acceptable. I’m just not sure that Shuman, with her emphasis on celebrities and Beverly Hills connections, fully realises this yet.
Sponseller was diagnosed with severe epilepsy at the age of 19. “I was very, very sick. I’ve had hundreds of seizures. I’ve had more than 30 recorded concussions – that’s like an NFL football player. Pretty bad,” she says.
She’d been an aspiring law student, but the seizures made studying impossible. The cocktail of conventional drugs she was prescribed left her “like a complete zombie”, she says.
They also wrecked her liver – so much so, she’s been told she’ll need a transplant.
Then there was the psychological impact: “It’s not fun – you can’t wake up [because of the sedative effect of the drugs]. Before long you get depressed because you’re not yourself. You do question the purpose of living. And what got me through was medical cannabis.”
When I meet her, Sponseller is a week shy of being six months seizure-free – the longest seizure-free spell she’s had since the age of 19. She puts the improvement down to medicating with marijuana – both by smoking it and taking a pill form. She has stopped taking all her previous conventional medicines.
Again, she has not been part of a proper medical trial, and it is impossible to know for sure whether cannabis has really benefited her. But put that to pot advocates and they will counter that proper research on cannabis has been thwarted in America because for more than 40 years, it has been listed under Schedule I of the US Controlled Substances Act. That means it is regarded as a dangerous drug that has “no currently accepted medical use”, alongside the likes of heroin and LSD. (Cocaine is classed in the more relaxed Schedule II category.)
As Sponseller describes the weirdness of this situation, her thoughts turn to Shuman. She’s happy that Shuman is out there, making a case for greater acceptance. “Cheryl’s a strong woman. She has a beautiful aura. And she’s making herself heard,” says Sponseller, clutching her pipe.
That she certainly is.
Most of the evidence concerning cannabis and cancer is in vitro or in vivo (animals). There is virtually none in humans, only human cell lines in petri dishes. There is no evidence of a curative effect. The only clinical trial was purified THC fed directly into glioma brain tumours in nine patients. Eight showed some benefit but all were dead within one year.
The evidence almost certainly will come but it does not yet exist and may require specific extracts, concentrates or other processes to produce reliable, consistent, clinical results.
This is a pre-publication extract from ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’, the most comprehensive and up to date review of the evidence on medicinal cannabis, shortly to be published by CLEAR.
Studies And Clinical Trials
The anti cancer properties of THC, CBD, CBG and other cannabinoids are well established. Scientists have been investigating them since the early 1970s and more than 1100 papers on cannabinoids and cancer have been published. (42)
It is also well established that cannabis helps with the side effects of cancer treatments, particularly nausea and lack of appetite. (43,44,45,46)
Cannabis may also help alleviate anxiety, depression, insomnia and mood disorders in cancer patients. However, some patients may find exactly the opposite results (47)
A very large quantity of anecdotal reports detail remarkable results with cannabis oil on many different forms of cancer. (48) One of the most important properties of cannabis as a cancer therapy is that it is non-toxic and even if little therapeutic effect is achieved, it causes little harm.
On balance, while there is good evidence of anti cancer properties in vitro (human cell lines) and in vivo (animal) studies, there is little evidence of actual results in humans except in the treatment of basal cell carcinoma (49). However, few would disagree that the palliative value of cannabis is of great benefit to many cancer patients. (50)
Clinical trials are underway on cancer pain (51) and the treatment of glioma brain cancer (52).
These selected studies indicate the evidence currently available.
Cannabinoids and cancer: potential for colorectal cancer therapy. Biochem Soc Trans. 2005. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16042581 (53)
A pilot clinical study of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, British Journal of Cancer, 2006 http://www.nature.com/bjc/journal/v95/n2/full/6603236a.html (54)
Cannabinoids for Cancer Treatment: Progress and Promise. Cancer Res. 2008. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/68/2/339 (55)
Cannabidiol Induces Programmed Cell Death in Breast Cancer Cells by Coordinating the Cross-talk between Apoptosis and Autophagy. Mol Cancer Ther., 2011. http://mct.aacrjournals.org/content/10/7/1161.long (56)
The intersection between cannabis and cancer in the United States. CROH, 2011. http://www.croh-online.com/article/S1040-8428(11)00231-9/fulltext (57)
Cannabinoids: a new hope for breast cancer therapy? Cancer Treat Rev. 2012 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22776349 (58)
Towards the use of cannabinoids as antitumour agents. Nat Rev Cancer. 2012 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22555283 (59)
Cannabis Extract Treatment for Terminal Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with a Philadelphia Chromosome Mutation. Case Rep Oncol. 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901602/ (60)
Non-hallucinogenic cannabinoids are effective anti-cancer drugs. Anticancer Research, 2013. http://www.sgul.ac.uk/news/news/study-shows-non-hallucinogenic-cannabinoids-are-effective-anti-cancer-drugs (61)
Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22506672%20 (62)
Cannabis, cannabinoids and cancer – the evidence so far. Cancer Research UK, 2014. http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/07/25/cannabis-cannabinoids-and-cancer-the-evidence-so-far/ (63)
The Combination of Cannabidiol and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Enhances the Anticancer Effects of Radiation in an Orthotopic Murine Glioma Model. Mol.Cancer.Ther. 2014. http://mct.aacrjournals.org/content/13/12/2955 (64)
42. PubMed search term ‘cannabinoid cancer’ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=cannabinoid%20cancer
43. Cannabis and Cannabinoids. National Cancer Institute, 2014 http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional/page5
44. Cannabinoids in medicine: A review of their therapeutic potential. JEthPharm, 2006. http://www.ww.ufcw770.org/sites/all/themes/danland/files/CannabinoidsMedMetaAnalysis06.pdf
45. Review on clinical studies with cannabis and cannabinoids 2005-2009. IACM 2010. http://www.cannabis-med.org/data/pdf/en_2010_01_special.pdf
46. Medical marijuana for cancer. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 2014. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.21260/abstract
47. Cannabis and Cannabinoids. National Cancer Institute, 2014 http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional/page5
48. Cannabis Oil Testimonials. Cure Your Own Cancer, 2014. http://www.cureyourowncancer.org/testimonials.html
49. Physician’s documentation confirms successful treatment of basal cell carcinoma resulted from the application of a topical cannabis extract. Cannabis Science, 2011. http://www.cannabisscience.com/2011/499-cannabis-science-provides-physician-s-documentation-that-confirms-successful-treatment-of-skin-cancer
50. Cannabis in Palliative Medicine: Improving Care and Reducing Opioid-Related Morbidity. AM J HOSP PALLIAT CARE, 2011. http://ajh.sagepub.com/content/28/5/297
51. Third phase III Sativex cancer pain trial commences http://www.gwpharm.com/Third%20phase%20III%20Sativex%20cancer%20pain%20trial%20commences.aspx
52. GW Pharmaceuticals Commences Phase 1b/2a Clinical Trial for the Treatment of Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) http://is.gd/Wac81a
53. Cannabinoids and cancer: potential for colorectal cancer therapy. Biochem Soc Trans. 2005. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16042581
54. A pilot clinical study of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, British Journal of Cancer, 2006 http://www.nature.com/bjc/journal/v95/n2/full/6603236a.html
55. Cannabinoids for Cancer Treatment: Progress and Promise. Cancer Res. 2008. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/68/2/339
56. Cannabidiol Induces Programmed Cell Death in Breast Cancer Cells by Coordinating the Cross-talk between Apoptosis and Autophagy. Mol Cancer Ther., 2011. http://mct.aacrjournals.org/content/10/7/1161.long
57. The intersection between cannabis and cancer in the United States. CROH, 2011. http://www.croh-online.com/article/S1040-8428(11)00231-9/fulltext
58. Cannabinoids: a new hope for breast cancer therapy? Cancer Treat Rev. 2012 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22776349
59. Towards the use of cannabinoids as antitumour agents. Nat Rev Cancer. 2012 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22555283
60. Cannabis Extract Treatment for Terminal Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with a Philadelphia Chromosome Mutation. Case Rep Oncol. 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901602/
61. Non-hallucinogenic cannabinoids are effective anti-cancer drugs. Anticancer Research, 2013. http://www.sgul.ac.uk/news/news/study-shows-non-hallucinogenic-cannabinoids-are-effective-anti-cancer-drugs
62. Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22506672%20
63. Cannabis, cannabinoids and cancer – the evidence so far. Cancer Research UK, 2014. http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/07/25/cannabis-cannabinoids-and-cancer-the-evidence-so-far/
64. The Combination of Cannabidiol and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Enhances the Anticancer Effects of Radiation in an Orthotopic Murine Glioma Model. Mol.Cancer.Ther. 2014. http://mct.aacrjournals.org/content/13/12/2955
Some people think the BBC is right wing and others think it’s run by a bunch of commie subversives. Personally I’d say it’s soft left, mumsy, pro-status quo. It supports the establishment and that means it’s always been negative about cannabis. If it isn’t joining in the demonisation of us – the three million psychotic axe murderers that use cannabis regularly in the UK – then it takes a jokey, sarcastic, snide angle.
So the release of a short news video report today ‘Can cannabis oil cure serious diseases like cancer?’ is a big step forward. Even better, it’s fronted by Alastair Leithead, a credible, intelligent journalist, not by some ‘celebrity doctor’ or the ‘addiction expert’ Professor John Marsden, who presented the disgraceful and misleading ‘America’s Stoned Kids’ in 2012, where he tried to pin adolescents with cannabis problems on Colorado’s legalisation even though it hadn’t even come into force at the time.
Mark my words, this is a step change, a seminal moment.
Perhaps, at last, the UK media will start treating medicinal cannabis seriously as has been happening in America and Australia for many years. We’ve already seen some local newspapers publishing intelligent articles and the Daily Mail has jumped on the bandwagon of sensationalist stories about treating childhood epilepsy. All we need now is The Times, The Guardian and the Sundays to give it the attention it deserves. The Daily Telegraph has become the new home of ‘reefer madness’, with appalling distortion of science, more tabloid than a tabloid. But we don’t need it anymore, it’s made itself irrelevant.
So watch this short video. It includes interviews with Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK, a woman who is cancer free after rejecting chemotherapy and only using cannabis oil and a sceptical Professor David Agus, who is entirely correct that there is no credible scientific evidence yet available that cannabis cures cancer.
It’s coming though. CLEAR is about to publish the most comprehensive, up to date paper ‘Medicinal Cannabis:The Evidence’. A leading pharmacologist is about to publish a paper supporting a move of cannabis from schedule one to schedule two and various clinical trials are coming to fruition.
All the more reason to be optimistic that the next Parliament will have no option but to introduce long-overdue reform.