Preston mum Sybil Lucas-Brewer claims cannabis is the only thing that has helped her battle a multitude of illnesses.
In the first part of a series looking at the drug and whether it has genuine medical benefits, Sybil tells Investigative Reporter Aasma Day about her experiences.
“We can grow parsley and fennel, so why can’t we grow cannabis?” These defiant words from Sybil Lucas-Brewer sum up the logic held by many people who use cannabis for medical purposes and firmly believe in marijuana’s healing powers.
Sybil, 60, of Lea, Preston, is adamant she owes her life to cannabis after doctors told her she wouldn’t live past the age of 45.
Sybil, married to Tony, and with two grown-up sons, says: “Cannabis is a medicinal herbal plant. It is a God-given herb. I think there is a plant out there for every ailment. We are just too ignorant to find them.
“Look at how many medicines have come from the rainforest.”
She told me her son got these ‘wacky baccy’ cigarettes for her to take her pain away.
Sybil is riddled with pain after spending most of her life afflicted with a string of health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthristis, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, diabetes and hypothyroidism.
However, she is allergic to many conventional drugs and has reacted violently with side-effects. She said: “My arthritic problems began when I was a girl.
“I remember feeling burning pain in my knees and having problems riding a bike and feeling stiff and sore. I constantly rubbed my knees as they hurt so much.
“My dad thought it was just growing pains.”
As the years went by, Sybil’s health problems worsened, and she now uses a wheelchair most of the time.]
“By the time I had my second son, now 29, things had got so bad, I couldn’t even pick up my own baby. I was suffering from extreme fatigue and weakness down my left hand side.
“I kept going into hospital and had lots of medications, but none of them worked. My pain was extremely debilitating and I had absolutely no energy. I just clawed my way through each day.
“I was then diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Even getting up and brushing my teeth was a real effort.”
As time went on, Sybil battled with even more health issues, including Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), a disorder of the inner ear which caused episodes of intense dizziness and parasthesia – tingling, pricking and burning sensations. Medics tried a myriad of medications, but none of them worked for any period of time and Sybil suffered horrendous side effects.
She recalls: “Every medication I took had really bad side effects and some almost killed me.
“When I was 40, things had got so bad, doctors told me I’d never get to 42.
“Then when I reached 42, they said I would never get to 45.”
At 42, Sybil was in hospital suffering a lot of arthritic pain and she was given an insight into the medical benefits of cannabis.
She remembers: “An elderly lady on the same ward saw my pain and said: ‘I’ll get me son to bring in some wacky baccy for you’
“She told me her son got these ‘wacky baccy’ cigarettes for her to take her pain away.
“I thought how thoughtful it was that her son would do this for his mother, even though he knew it was against the law.
“He didn’t look like a hippy or criminal but was a well-dressed professional young gentleman.
“I went to the hospital car park for a sneaky spliff with this elderly lady. It instantly cut my pain in half. I felt chilled and didn’t experience any side-effects.
“That night, I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time. I felt like I’d been given my life back.”
Sybil decided to research cannabis and discovered there were lots of people using the drug for its medicinal properties. Online, there were people growing cannabis to help others with medical conditions.
She says: “I decided growing cannabis wasn’t for me and I wanted to go somewhere I could get organic cannabis for medical purposes.
“I contacted a man called Jeff Ditchfield and he asked for proof of my medical conditions. When he was satisfied I was genuine, he sent me some cannabis.”
Jeff is an outspoken cannabis campaigner and activist. He was one of the original founders of Bud Buddies, an organisation that supplied marijuana free of charge for medicinal users from 2002 to 2007. Jeff says his organisation was a non-profit venture operating out of medical necessity.
However, he was eventually prosecuted for supplying cannabis.
Jeff was found not guilty by a jury. However, the authorities took the case to the Court of Appeal and he was declared guilty and Bud Buddies was closed down.
Sybil says: “In Jeff, I found a very knowledgeable man risking his freedom to help others by giving them free weed for proven medical conditions.
“The judge closed Jeff down because he didn’t have people with professional medical knowledge or qualifications working for him or supporting his work.
“However, Jeff did – he just didn’t want to give these people away as they worked in the NHS. Jeff had consultants sending patients to him.
“There are a lot of people out there living in pain who are allergic to prescription drugs. Many turn to drugs or alcohol to escape their agony.
“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I eat the best diet I can afford. Drink and cigarettes do far more harm than cannabis.”
Sybil used the cannabis in food or vapourised it.
She says: “Smoking cannabis is not beneficial. You waste most of it waiting for the next drag. I cooked cannabis in chocolate cake and brownies and soaked it in oil and made capsules.
“I also vapourised it and inhaled the vapour. I made oil and cream with it and rubbed it into my knees and joints. It took away my pain and I felt healthy and my joints became more mobile.”
A few years ago, Sybil heard a company called GW Pharmaceuticals was growing cannabis to create a cannabinoid medicine to see how it treated certain health conditions.
Cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis plant were licenced in the UK as a medication called Sativex and prescribed by consultants for conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Sybil asked her pain management consultant if she could be prescribed Sativex and has been using it for the last few years.
Jokingly, Sybil says: “I am an NHS-prescribed pothead! Sativex is a proven cannabis medicine and is lawful and legal. It is Home Office- approved and consultants can prescribe it for certain conditions.
“It is all plant extract and organic and you just spray it under your tongue. At first, I thought Sativex would be an evil medication like all the rest that failed for me. To my surprise, it worked and it is continuing to work for me.”
Since she got her Sativex prescription, Sybil has not smoked, eaten or vapourised weed as she gets all she needs to relieve her pain from the spray.
However, she believes the authorities are trying to stop Sativex. In October 2014, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) said it was not cost effective.
Sybil gets angered by the arguments people use against cannabis – even if it’s just for medicinal use.
Sybil says: “Sativex works for many neurological conditions but anti-cannabis people are trying to stop it.
“There are doctors, nurses and consultants who know cannabis is a good medicine, but because of the law, they can’t tell patients this.
“But there are people from all walks of life using cannabis for medical reasons.
“I met a woman who made chocolates using cannabis and was once in hospital and met this Bangledeshi lady drinking a ‘Mango Bhang Lassi’ which she told me was made with ‘special herbs’ to relieve her pain.
“Basically, she was drinking a fruity yogurt drink made with a form of cannabis.
“I would like to see cannabis lawfully legalised and see medicinal cannabis outlets attached to hospitals with experienced professional medics administering cannabis.
“There are lots of people in Preston and Lancashire using cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“It is about offering another support line to the critically ill. People tell me I don’t look 60. I think that’s down to the Green Goddess too.
“Doctors told me I would be dead by the age of 45. But I have just turned 60.
“I have already outlived my expected death date by 15 years.
“I am still here and I believe that I owe my life to cannabis.”