Alfie's Story - One Step Closer To Making Medical Cannabis Legal?
Updated: Mar 30, 2018
A few nights ago instead of Netflix, I spent my evening watching Home Office Minister Nick Hurd fielding questions about the case of six-year-old Alfie Dingley. I’m not normally an avid viewer of parliamentary questions online, but for Alfie, I made an exception.
The little boy’s story had been splashed across the news since the weekend, after the Home Office refused his parents a special licence to give their son medical cannabis. Alfie is one of just 9 nine boys in the world with the genetic epileptic condition, PCDH19, and can have up to 40 seizures a day.
We all pin our hopes on modern medicine. But sometimes it just doesn’t have the answers. For Alfie, the best doctors could come up with is a long term treatment of high strength steroids, which his parents have been told will eventually cause psychosis. That’s if a seizure doesn’t end his short life first.
How a parent goes from this situation to considering a schedule 1 drug classified as having no therapeutic benefit and liable to abuse, one can only imagine. Most probably it was trawling the internet where several cases of children with intractable epilepsy can be found whose seizures reduced after taking medical cannabis.
But what Alfie’s parents were certain he needed was illegal - THC - the controversial compound feared by the public for causing skunk-induced mental illness. For most of us, it’s hard to believe that this same compound could prolong Alfie’s life by protecting his brain from seizures.
That’s because cannabis doesn’t fit snuggly into our conventional model of medicine. How could it? With over 400 active molecules, most of which have barely been studied, it’s a regulatory nightmare. Modern medicine likes single molecules that activate identifiable pathways, not a sprawling molecular mass targeting multiple receptors at once.
So, it’s easier to put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. Which by classifying cannabis as a schedule 1 drug pretty much amounts to the same thing. Schedule 1 means a substance is considered without therapeutic benefit, liable for abuse, and effectively curtails most meaningful research.
However, Alfie’s story has shown that for him at least, medical cannabis does have therapeutic benefits.
Last year, his family moved to Holland where under a Pediatric Neurologist, he was prescribed whole plant cannabis oil containing CBD and THC. Alfie’s seizures dropped dramatically, and free from steroids, he could communicate better and play safely with his sister.
When it comes to epilepsy it is easy to measure whether a drug is effective. Someone either has seizures or they don’t. That’s why across the globe it has been the extraordinary stories of children with epilepsy that have forced politicians into acknowledging that cannabis does indeed have therapeutic benefits and must be rescheduled.
But the plant’s purported benefits are not just limited to epilepsy. In the 2016 Barnes Report presented by the all party parliamentary group on drug reform, the author says: "We analysed over 20,000 scientific and medical reports. The results are clear. Cannabis has a medical benefit for a wide range of conditions.”
Watching parliamentary questions on Tuesday, there was a palpable shift in the air. For once the House wasn’t empty, and MPs from across all parties had prepared questions to ask Home Office Minister Nick Hurd MP. All requested compassion and flexibility in the case of Alfie Dingley, as well as calling for the regulation of medical cannabis at large.
Today medical cannabis takes centre stage again in the House of Commons with veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn second reading of the private member’s bill (PMB) on the issue. Only three PMB’s have been made law in the last twenty years, so this is no guarantee of waking up on Saturday to a new dawn of legal medical cannabis.
But the cross party support also reflects a seismic shift in UK consciousness. And maybe, just maybe we are edging closer to a time when the UK finally joins the growing tally of countries worldwide that have incorporated medicinal cannabis into their public health care system. I for one will be glued once again to Parliament Live TV.
For more information about Alfie Dingley’s story see the family’s Change.org page.