Cannabis campaigners share their stories

With recent news that cannabis campaigners could be coming to debate in Canterbury, Lily Houston spoke to the passionate people trying to change the laws.

Sixty-year-old Rocky who lives in Whitstable has been a regular cannabis user since 1974. Although he originally used the drug for purely recreational purposes, he and many of his friends now use cannabis to reduce symptoms of chronic pain conditions.

He has been campaigning for almost three decades to change the laws regarding cannabis.

Rocky van de Benderskum

Campaigner, Rocky Van De Benderskum

Rocky started his campaign journey years before the We The Undersigned WTU was founded in early 2018. He began on a small scale by attending local festivals and protests in the Kent area to provide people with information about cannabis.

He stepped up his game in 2002 by joining the Legalise Cannabis Alliance and joining the WTU group in 2018. However his ill health has meant Rocky can now only campaign as and when his pain allows. 

About his time in the LCA he said: “I had some friends in the alliance who were the group THC4MS who sent medicated chocolate bars through the post to MS sufferers. They had been busted and were being charged with conspiracy, and this was after being called to the house of lords as expert witnesses on Medicinal Cannabis.”

Rocky now uses cannabis to alleviate symptoms and pain, rather than treat his disorders as they are quite complex. He is currently in remission from Acute Myeloid Leukemia and has had 27 types of chemo and a bone marrow transplant. He was also in a severe car accident in 1976 which has left him in almost constant pain.

“I fractured my skull in two places in 1976 flying through a car windscreen into a lamppost and have had migraines and cluster headaches constantly since. Over the counter painkillers stopped working many years ago, but smoking pure weed really helped rather than the Migralieve prescribed, which was hallucinogenic so not suitable for everyday.”

After his transplant he now suffers from GvHD, graft versus host disease, according to the Cancer Research UK website: “GvHD happens when particular types of white blood cell (T cells) in the donated bone marrow or stem cells attack your own body cells.

This happens because the donated cells (the graft) see your body cells (the host) as foreign and attack them.”

Rocky said the use of CBD balm has helped him cope with his condition: “I had this severely after my transplant in all my organs but it settled in my skin which is still bad but alleviated with CBD balm topically.”

The controversial use of the drug to treat conditions that cause chronic pain has now been backed by the Royal College of Nursing.

Speaking at the Annual Congress Tracey Risebrow, the RCN member who proposed the debate said: “There’s evidence of its medical benefit for a number of conditions and we have a duty to explore whether our patients might be helped by nurses putting their weight behind the issue.”

We The Undersigned current logo 

Another member of the group, Byron Huggins uses cannabis to calm his mental health conditions.

Byron Huggins

Byron said: “I personally have used cannabis since an early age, when I was younger I would self harm through anger or depression, I had ups and downs every day and I couldn’t control my emotions.”

He found that using and smoking the drug has helped him lead a happier lifestyle.

“It’s a mental health issue that has resulted in me treating my ailments with cannabis, it allows me to smile and be positive and stop over thinking. personally for myself its the THC that brings me up out of depression and the CBD that lowers my anger, its a mix of both compounds working together.”

He joined the WTU Facebook group and found that many others who suffer with the same condition as him were also using cannabis. He, along with hundreds of other members are fighting to get the laws changed by holding debates and talking to MPs.

He said: “Families started to join the group and told stories of their children’s suffering with epilepsy or similar things to me when I was younger and now they can have a normal quality of life because their parents choose to make themselves, by UK definition, criminals. I want to stop these people being criminals, they are just trying to protect their children.”

The founder of the group, Phil Monk uses cannabis with the support from his GP after prescription medication caused him horrific side effects.

Phil Monk

Phil Monk

Phil Monk is a family man and non-practising teacher of Adult Literacy, numeracy, English for Speakers of Other Languages and Spanish. He started the facebook group, We The Undersigned in early 2018 and it has grown considerably in just a few months.

He said: “I am a therapeutic Cannabis practitioner who believes in the freedom for all to choose cannabis to maintain one’s health, well being and happiness, through the many potential applications of natural herbal cannabis.”

He has been in constant pain for years due to chronic myofascial pain from joint hyper-mobility syndrome, bilateral ulnar impaction syndrome, and depression. Since 2014, Prescribed drugs have caused him four traumatising hospitalisations including a brain haemorrhage, a mini stroke and cancer scares.

He turned to cannabis to help ease his symptoms: “I’m terrified of taking anymore prescribed, synthetic, side effect ridden drugs. Having been a recreational cannabis consumer since I was 16, I turned to cannabis to relieve my conditions. My GP and surgeon supported my decision and believed that I shouldn’t suffer discrimination for a health choice.

This led to 4 years of extensive academic reading around the subject of the effects and uses of cannabis, and what I have learned has changed my life for the better.”

Phil and his group are hoping to deliver nationwide community cannabis awareness events, to share information with the public and to gain their support for reform.