Cyprus Mail
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Cannabis in Kamares

Girl Smoking Marjuana

NAN MACKENZIE meets a respectable grandma who smokes a joint every night before bed and calls for the legalisation of medical marijuana and the decriminalising of cannabis use

Driving to Jane Smith’s villa I tried to imagine what a 60-year-old retiree who admits to smoking cannabis on a daily basis would be like. No doubt she will waft patchouli oil in her wake, have eyes that look like road maps and a downstairs lavatory poster shrine to the Grateful Dead, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.
In reality this ex librarian looked like she was about to chair a Women’s Institute meeting. Marks & Spencer with a splash of Chanel, her clear blue eyes edged only with some laughter lines. I had been invited to listen to her story, the idea being that what she had to say might help others and even start a dialogue to decriminalise cannabis for personal use.

She, like so many others, wants the government to change cannabis’ current classification so it is decriminalised and the medical use of the drug is authorised, it be given on prescription. As the law stands a person in Cyprus can be sent to prison for using cannabis, and if found in possession there is a maximum sentence of eight years. If a first time offender is under the age of 25 the law can imprison them for two years. Those found with three cannabis plants or more or in possession of 30g or more of the drug are then presumed to be using it to supply.

So the big question had to be, why this seemingly respectable woman with the responsibilities of grandchildren, two dogs and a cat, chooses to run the risk of drug squad officers knocking on her door? “The choice for me is to break the law to be well,” she said “and when given the choice, my health and quality of daily life is far more important to me.

A marijuana plant is seen at Tweed Marijuana Inc in Smith's Falls, Ontario, Canada March 19, 2014. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo
A marijuana plant

“I was diagnosed two years ago with a recurrence of breast cancer and once again followed the protocol laid out by my oncologist of chemotherapy, surgical removal, followed by radiotherapy and every three weeks an intravenous injection of the drug Herceptin. Then bone cancer was also suspected in my hip joint and cancer protocol dictated a monthly infusion of the drug Zoometa, a drug capable of filling up the holes in bones which have been eaten away by the cancer.”
Chemotherapy treatments over the years have left Jane with permanent neurological damage, constant numbness in the tips of her fingers and toes, combined with terrible night cramps and hip pain which led to many sleepless nights. “I was initially prescribed liquid morphine for the pain, also as a means to sleep, but one dose had me wandering around the house looking for my brain, and I was rendered semi-comatose for most of the next day”.

So was smoking cannabis a throwback to her student days? “Absolutely not, I was only recently introduced to the drug via another cancer patient who told me how it had helped him as he also had a condition which disallowed heavy usage of morphine. Interestingly, he was a retired police officer from Limassol”.
Jane belongs to a generation that considers smoking cannabis was only for the lazy and rock musicians, where all druggies were deemed depraved, lost beings who used drugs as a way to disrespect authority, smoked regularly only by those who aspired to a lifetime dedicated to pleasure rather than work.

It’s a mindset that still holds strong. “One friend is concerned that I will in the long term suffer from some form of ‘reefer madness’, my sister and other members of my family know and understand what I do. My sister recently gifted me an ordinary gent’s wooden pipe as I find my joint rolling technique with numb fingers isn’t up to scratch. Using the pipe I now find is so much easier. Another close friend was worried that cannabis would act as a gateway drug to other stronger opiates,” said Jane.

For the past 80 years the gateway argument has been a popular one, with the assumption that cannabis use leads to harder drugs such as heroin, cocaine etc. But prescription drug abuse is actually a bigger gateway, with drugs such as hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone being not only highly addictive but also easier to find. “These pills have a very different effect. Smoking cannabis creates a high and in my case allows me to sleep, versus prescription drugs that are created to temporarily remove the feeling of pain and sedate the users.”

When the legal supply is cut off, prescription drug abusers turn to illegal drug markets looking for the same ‘stuff’ and even at this point drug abusers will skip over cannabis and go for the hard opioids such as heroin. Drug dealers help introduce people to crack, meth, heroin and any other form of illegal practice that is on offer by the black market. Legalising cannabis, of course, will not stop this, but campaigners say it is relatively benign and if legal could be better controlled with its sale no longer being in the hands of unscrupulous dealers.

Ignorance however is something one cannot afford when it comes to living with cancer. “A wide range of medications are meted out to patients,” said Jane “and the thing is, everyone is different, as is their cancer. One treatment may work, others on the same drug regime may find it intolerable, so knowledge and taking back a form of control regarding this disease is essential.

“I have done my research and it was thorough, and although the evidence is there few, if any, large scale clinical trials have been completed to confirm that cannabis does kill cancer cells. The main active ingredient in cannabis is cannabinoid (delta-90THC) and we as humans actually create cannabinoid-like chemicals known as endocannabinoids, and there is now research going on to investigate the other family of cannabinoids in our body known as GR and these receptors are being tested to see if they could lead to effective approaches for treating cancer. Note that I use the word ‘treating ‘cancer because no one has yet been able to say with any level of certainty that using the oil, smoking or having medical cannabis cures cancer.”

One important finding is that it will soon be possible to develop drugs that target CB2 which will have an anti-cancer effect but which crucially won’t have the mind bending effects of many cannabinoids. “But anyone on this rather tortuous body bashing and mentally exhausting cancer journey will find that smoking cannabis relives pain and is also an active agent in relieving the nausea from chemotherapy treatments. Plus it aids appetite and if I can’t eat, I cannot heal, if I can’t sleep, I cannot heal. Until I started smoking cannabis I was, to put it bluntly, in bloody awful shape, both physically and mentally – constant sleep deprivation doesn’t exactly make one the most fun person at dinner parties.”

Not only is Jane’s research measured but so is her use of the drug. “I only smoke one joint every night before I go to bed, which is preferable to taking pharmaceutical medication as these are designed to shut down your system, which cannabis does not do. A month’s supply will usually cost me around €50.”
Jane then produces two boxes of barely touched morphine oral solution and after reading the information on the drug, two pages of no-nos and dire warnings, I could understand why she had sought alternative sleep medication. And in her opinion cannabis was the only thing that hadn’t on its own killed anyone.

But how does Jane manage to get hold of her ‘sleep potion’. She hardly fits the stereotype of hanging around clubs and pubs trying to score a few grams. “I was fortunate to know a herbalist who has been making cannabis oil and cultivating the ‘buds’ so I know my source, and the stuff I receive every month is not a genetically engineered superstrain as he understands what strains of cannabis can be used for different conditions and patients. As for scoring outside of this comfort zone, I firmly believe there is a need to get rid of street dealers who often mix cannabis with other stuff.

“The stigma attached to cannabis is that it is bad because it is illegal, and it’s illegal because it’s bad, and that worryingly teaches that cannabis, heroin and cocaine all fall into one category of bad drugs. Prescription and over the counter pills fall into the category of good drugs and this blanket way of identifying and mislabelling drugs has really done us all a great disservice as we assume that a good drug can be consumed without any side effects, but it can turn out to be more damaging.”

The American government in particular has used scare tactics in its war on drugs campaign that seem to confuse cannabis with alcohol so “we have essentially justified prohibiting one vice by characterising it with the effects of a legal one. The truth is I have come across more people with blotchy skin and wild eyes or lying legless in the street who are alcoholics than cannabis users. I have also met functioning drug users who have smoked cannabis for over 20 years and they display none of the stereotypical effects displayed in the scaremongering posters and leaflets.”

It seems pharmaceutical companies, perhaps scared by the growing legalisation of cannabis in some states, have started to take the medical use of the plant seriously. They are currently developing a synthetic cannabinoid which is an artificial version of THC (the active compound in marijuana) even after conceding that natural marijuana has benefits over their synthetic THC, which means the big pharma companies could not afford to have legalisation of cannabis as this would significantly limit the commercial success of their product.

Another concern for pharmaceutical companies is that survey data indicates patients who have accessed medical marijuana and who smoke cannabis often reduce their use of prescription drugs, particularly opioids and according to a 2015 RAND corps study opiate related abuse and mortality is much lower in regions that permit medical cannabis access compared to those that outlaw the plant.

Even so, cannabis use in Cyprus is illegal and is still an offence looked upon seriously. “I am breaking the law, I fully accept this fact, and yes, there is the constant fear of the police knocking on my door but my choices are limited. My oncologist is aware I smoke but he is much more clued up than other medical staff I have encountered and has applied for me to have a legitimate source of cannabis oil via the ministry of health.” The CBD oil, taken in droplet form under the tongue, is different to the cannabis resin used to fight pain and promote sleep as the oil aids immune systems to fight cancer. In the UK a company now makes Charlotte’s Web cannabis oil after it was made legal in July 2015, which is now sought after as an alternative treatment for a wide range of conditions including severe epilepsy in very young children. This is a hemp extract which is rich in vitamins minerals and omegas 3 and 6. “Cyprus needs to open its mindset to the cultivation of hemp not only as a medicinal aid but also as a natural fibre source,” says Jane.

Jane then pours me a glass of wine and launches into a rant of how the harms from alcohol abuse are as severe as those from illicit drugs and if alcohol was discovered today it would likely be banned as a dangerous drug, along with tobacco. With the depressing thought of my evening glass of wine now considered addictive, I bid my farewell but not before using the guest loo, which I am glad to report was bereft of any images of the Grateful Dead.

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