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Combating the stigma: a T21 success story

cannabis next to a stethoscope

By Louise McConnell

Although medical cannabis has been legal in the UK for more than four years, there still exists a great deal of stigma and resistance to medical cannabis among many people including healthcare providers.

Louise was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at the age of 21, diagnosed with fibromyalgia in her 40s and very recently diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) in her late 50s. She has been a medical cannabis patient for the past three years, joining T21 in June 2021. She has already had several surgeries due to her conditions. In November 2022, she had to undertake two further surgeries, both on the same day: bone was harvested from her iliac crest before undergoing a cervical discectomy on two levels using her own bone to implant.

Patient at hospital

"Medical cannabis has given me back control of my own healthcare "

Louise did not want to take any pharmacological medications after surgery; rather she wanted to be in charge of her own health, and so preferred to use medical cannabis to handle post-operative pain. For this to happen, the clinician at her medical cannabis clinic was required to write a letter to her private hospital and attach evidence of the prescription. The hospital reviewed the documentation, contacted the anaesthetist and surgeon to give their approval,  and made the decision to allow Louise to consume her medication at the hospital as requested. When Louise arrived, they put her medication on a tray labelled with her details and stored it together with the rest of the medications that other patients had brought with them. Louise commented “They are making all reasonable adjustments for me and I’m delighted. I am very lucky; I have a great anaesthetist and surgeon!

After the surgery, she was instructed to use an empty room nearby in the hospital to vape her cannabis medication as needed. Patients who undertake this surgery are usually given opioids such as Vicodin or Percocet which can have various side effects such as drowsiness and light-headedness. Louise, however, was able to come out of hospital after major surgery having needed only IV paracetamol and medical cannabis. We asked Louise what she would hope to see for other medical cannabis patients in the future: “I would love for any medical cannabis patient to be able to use their medicine while at the hospital. I would like it to become more widely known that it can be done. Hospitals can accommodate this quite easily; all they have to do is let you bring your own medicine and let you vape or consume it.

a picture of before and after of a patient

First photo taken in April 2021, with Louise weighing only 6 stone, and the second in January 2023 after three surgeries in 15 months, with Louise then weighing 7 stone 10.

Ultimately, we hope that education and research will help destigmatise cannabis use for therapeutic reasons. Positive experiences like this give us hope.

If you would like to share your experience with us in this way, get in touch.

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