The MS Society initially got in touch with the United Patients Alliance saying that they wanted to re-consider their position on medical cannabis use for MS patients. As someone with direct experience of the benefits cannabis can bring to MS suffers, I jumped at the chance to get round the table with the UKs biggest MS charity, and support them to [find/see] a way forward.
I have to be honest, I was once a member of the MS Society - but I cancelled my subscription. At the meeting in July, I offered up this information, and tell the charity that the decision to cancel was a direct result of their previous stance on cannabis. In the past, everything the society had to say about cannabis was negative. This was extremely distressing, serving to increase the stigmatisation of cannabis users and giving no support to those who find so much solace in their chosen medication. I've personally had family members use this to justify their anti-cannabis approach with me, saying "if cannabis can help with MS so much, why don't the MS Society say something about it?". Well, now they are.
MS Society's New Approach
Following our first meeting in July, the MS Society added a new page on cannabis to their website, which now states:
"We believe the law on cannabis should be changed (like it's changing in Ireland, Canada and Germany), so that someone with MS can access cannabis for medicinal use, and legally use it to treat pain and muscle spasticity when other treatments haven't worked."
They've even released a report on cannabis and MS online, so everyone can see the arguments for themselves.
This is nothing short of a revolutionary approach. The MS Society has done what so many others have shied away from doing – they have admitted that the law on cannabis need to change. By providing scientific evidence, doing primary research with individuals, and taking the public temperature, the MS Society have shown enough security in their own position to finally state the obvious – that the arguments in favour of medical use of cannabis are just too strong to ignore.
Spreading the Word
Knowing we were on the same page, the meeting in November paved the way for a new productive phase. After a few minutes it became obvious that Jon from the MS society was seriously passionate about his field, even reflecting that working on cannabis was their favourite part of their roles. They shared that the MS Society had met with a lot of MS patients in the community who had spoken about their consumption of cannabis, and wanted to hear about our experiences of cannabis use in MS patients, which were of course overwhelmingly positive.
During the discussion, we got the impression the MS society was really interested in (and investing in) progressing cannabis research and awareness, and understood the importance this form of treatment held for so many. We spoke about our own political campaigning with UPA, and heard that the MS Society are now actively pushing for greater understanding and acceptance of the medical benefits of cannabis; connecting with MPs and other charities in order to spread the word. We agreed to continue to work together to generate awareness, share knowledge and raise the issue further.
Over the years, I've often wrested with my decision to separate myself and my story from the rest of the cannabis scene, by focussing only on the medical arguments with the UPA. But in that moment, being invited to speak at the Head Quarters of the biggest MS Charity in the UK, I realised that this was the right thing to do. I know that this meeting could not have happened without UPA, and the focus we chose. We've always welcomed anyone who shares our values and beliefs to get on board, and we can see support is growing stronger by the day.
To some, this might seem like a minority approach – and it is, and the MS Society focuses only on (you guessed it!) people with MS. But it will pave the way for other charities to follow. If one charity can say that cannabis helps and should be recognised, it becomes less scary for others to admit that they have similar evidence and case studies to support this view. Now that the MS Society have shown that talking about the benefits of medical cannabis is no longer taboo, the subject is on the table for other charities to get on board with.
Call to Arms!
For this to happen on a greater scale, we all need to play our part. Times are changing – the MS Society approached UPA, and they were very positive. But the charity didn't always think this way. One of the main reasons the MS Society changed their attitude was from speaking to people with direct experience of cannabis. Chances are, other patient focused charities will have a similar approach.
If you have condition that isn't MS, start messaging, tweeting, emailing, talking to and lobbying, the charities that support your condition, to support you. Its important that we engage with as many people as possible in the run up to the 6th of July and Our Patron Paul Flynn MP's Medical cannabis access bill. Let's see who will be calling us up next.