A woman from Bristol who has chronic pain conditions says taking part in a medicinal cannabis trial has “changed her life.”

Andrea Wright was just 33 when she had to retire from her job due to ill health. She then discovered the trial, which is looking into the effects of the treatment so it can become more widely available on the NHS.

Andrea’s story started in 2013 when she was struck down with intense pain after a conference.

She explained: “I had to phone my boss and said ‘sorry I can’t do this I’m in agony.’ I was crying my eyes out. I couldn’t even drive home so I had to get someone to bring my car back to Bristol for me because I couldn’t drive.”

Andrea was eventually diagnosed with Psoriatic arthritis and then Fibromyalgia and found herself on a long list of medications, including opiates.

These heavily impacted her body, causing her to feel unwell.

Andrea said she was having to take medications to help ease the symptoms of the other medications.

She said: “A lot of the medication was making me unbelievably sick. I’d be walking down the road and having to vomit in a bin or wherever I just couldn’t control it – it was really, really awful.”

At the age of 33, two years since her initial diagnosis, things got “worse and worse”.

Andrea had to stop working as a chartered mechanical engineer for the National Grid. She says that is when her condition “really got” to her.

Andrea said: “My mental health just took a massive nosedive. I was severely depressed and especially looking at how all your peers are doing and how they’re getting on with their careers, I couldn’t get off the sofa.

“Chronic fatigue, chronic pain. I don’t think people truly understand how debilitating it is until they’ve got it.”

Without work she says the only thing that gave her a purpose was looking after her dog.

Andrea then found out about a medicinal cannabis trial which she joined in 2022.

A Solihull company that were doing Covid vaccines had set up a cannabis clinic by partnering with LVL Health.

Andrea had a consultation with the doctor there to see if she met the criteria and if it could help her.

Andrea said: “He basically gave me two options as they said they could prescribe some medical cannabis there and then which could be in bud or oil form or I could join this trial with LVL Health.

“I decided to do the trial as medical cannabis is expensive. You currently can’t get it on the NHS so it’s around £299 per month which is an awful lot of money.

“But I thought if I can join the trial and help get the empirical evidence that’s needed for this wonder drug, basically to become available on the NHS and that can help so many more people.

“I mean I know a lot of people who would benefit being able to have access to cannabis and it would make a massive impact on their lives as well.”

Andrea had some preliminary interviews and tests and within the month she was on the trial. It involves a device, like a vape, that is paired with a mobile and an exact dosage is delivered twice a day.

Participants then have to answer four questions about how it makes them feel after each dosage, then answer a weekly and quarterly questionnaire so evidence can be gathered to present to the NHS.

Andrea has been on the drug constantly since February 2022 and says she has felt “amazing” and that it has made a “huge difference” in a relatively short space of time.

Her pain levels are manageable, she is back to work full time and has managed to come off most of the opiates she was on.

When was medicinal cannabis legalised?

Medical use of cannabis, when prescribed by a registered specialist doctor, was legalised in November 2018 in the UK.

However, cannabis and cannabis-based medicinal products are only available on the. NHS for a very small number of conditions, due to the limited evidence base and their unlicensed nature.

So far, only a couple of cannabis-derived medicines have been cleared for widespread use by the NHS. These are Epidyolex for certain types of rare childhood epilepsy and Sativex for multiple sclerosis.

There are an estimated 8 million people in the UK currently suffering from chronic pain, with opioid use rates among the highest in Europe.

The government approved trial has taken four years in the making and is being run by Celadon Pharmaceuticals. The company, whose subsidiary is LVL Health, is based in the West Midlands.

They’ve done a feasibility study, which is a three month trial with around 100 people.

Due to the results of this, the NHS Research Ethics Committee has now given the green light for the study in up to 5,000 non-cancer pain patients to get underway.

Their CEO James Short says the work being done here is a huge learning curve for the country and will hopefully stop people who are desperate for the drug accessing it illegally. 

He said: “Fast forward 5-10 years, it’s going to be a different landscape. But I’m trying to change it today. I’m trying to get the people who have a real quality of life to benefit today.

“People say doctors are reluctant but they know what they’re prescribing isn’t really working, they’re open.”

Celadon’s Managing Director Arthur Wakeley said the study is showing promising results.

He said: “We’ve seen reduction in opioid levels but also improvements in sleep as well, so it’s really helping their overall quality of life. It gives us a real vote of confidence that cannabis based medicines can work.

“They can be safe and effective and we’re really looking forward to rolling this trial out further.”

View article here: https://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2023-08-30/woman-with-chronic-pain-says-medicinal-cannabis-has-changed-her-life