I’ve always had eczema, and it sucks. Stress, alcohol and unexpected fluctuations in temperature cause flare ups, and when that happens, my skin gets angry and melts into a wild fit of self-destruction. It’s itchy, scratchy and leaves my bed littered with skin flakes in the morning. Very fun.
In the past, dermatologists have prescribed me a super-strong antihistamine called hydroxyzine, which knocks me out at night with the efficacy of an impeccably-delivered Tyson Fury uppercut. I wake up nine hours later in the exact same position, without having ripped out chunks of my skin. But in the morning, it makes me groggy as fuck – I feel like I’ve had about four pints, which isn’t the best when I’m powering up my laptop first thing.
Instead of hydroxyzine, I can simply smoke weed and get the same benefits: a good night’s sleep without waking up in pain. Plus, I feel totally fine in the morning. So I’ve been hitting up the black market for this purpose, and although the weed’s quality on there has generally been good, but I can’t get specific strains. I simply get whatever people saved in my phone give me, like “Silver Mercedes” or “Tottenham weed”.
Since medical cannabis has been legal since 2018 in the UK, and I’d quite like to get on a train without worrying about an impending drug bust, I recently applied to one of the 36 cannabis clinics now operating in the UK. I was prescribed cannabis flower and promptly stopped shopping for weed on the black market.
“We estimate there are now about 15,000 patients in the UK prescribed full-spectrum products privately,” the Cannabis Industry Council said last year. “Patients now have a better choice of products (over 120) from 18 different importers.” Keep scrolling for three simple steps to getting legal weed.
Step 1: Gather evidence
Assuming you have one of the conditions that can legally be treated by cannabis, have tried two or more traditional treatments that didn’t work or experienced bad side effects, this is available if you can afford it. It’s wrong that privileged people like myself can pay to get it legally, and that those suffering from social deprivation could not only end up with an inferior product but also a criminal record. This inequality needs to be addressed, especially as medical cannabis continues to be grown in the UK. The clinic I’m now with – Integro – does offer discounts for people on certain benefits, but even then it’s still pricey. An estimated 1.4 million UK citizens self-medicate using black market cannabis as they can’t afford legal, medicinal weed.
Here’s how you can access your medical records, which you’ll need in this process: ring your GP practice, say you’d like to make a subject access request and they’ll email you an online form. Fill it out and they’ll email you your record 28 days later, which you can submit to any cannabis clinic as proof of your medical history.
Step 2: Book an appointment
Then, I booked an appointment with a specialist, which cost £95 and lasted about an hour – in my case, I saw a pain specialist. We delved into my condition in detail and discussed my history with eczema. Then we talked about how I’d been self-medicating with cannabis, which is important to be open and honest about.
Questions included: “Do you have any mental health issues? Do you drive?”, after which the doctor told me about the potential medicinal applications of various strains. There are at least 700 strains of weed, many of which are crossbred hybrids. It’s all about trying different ones to get the desired effect.
I was prescribed LA Confidential, a pure indica strain that delivers a numbing body effect. Grown in Denmark and imported, this batch was 19.8% THC and <0.1% CBD. And if I ever needed to take the medicine during the day, I was also prescribed Pink Kush (90% indica, 10% sativa; 18.5% THC, <0.1% CBD) which isn’t quite as couch-locking.
I asked what the best temperature is to vape weed at (around 185°C) and about a million more questions, because it’s not every day you get to quiz someone so knowledgeable on the topic of medicinal weed. This is an unlicensed medicine, the doctor explained, which means it’s not officially approved (or licensed) for treating my particular health condition at present. He couldn’t tell me for sure if it’d work or not, but went through potential side effects and risks before booking me in for a further appointment.
Both strains cost £12 a gram, which is more expensive than the black market, but then you know exactly what you’re taking, quality control (aka no heavy metals or other contaminants) and it’s legal to possess. According to a recent report by drugs advocacy group Volteface, one of the reasons it’s so expensive at the moment is “because it’s got to be imported and of a certain standard – although we do manufacture it here.”
According to a 2021 report by the UN, the UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal cannabis. In 2019, for instance, we produced 320 tonnes of legal cannabis. But patients like myself can’t consume that weed because… Well, why?
Step 3: The reverse drug bust
Every patient case then goes to a panel of said specialist’s colleagues, who make a final decision. My initial appointment was on a Saturday; the panel meeting was on the following Monday; on Tuesday I received a copy of my prescription via email. That same day, I got a phone call from a pharmacy. “We have 10g of Pink Kush and 10g of LA Confidential,” they said after asking me some security questions. “Is that what you’re expecting?”
A short silence.
“Yes,” I replied.
The next day a delivery guy in a high-vis jacket stood at my door and passed me a small cardboard box holding two white tubes, each containing 10g of green. It can only be described as a reverse drug bust – the first time someone in uniform has actually supplied me with weed rather than confiscated it from me.
Finally, try it out
I was instructed to vape the product in a dry-herb vaporiser: “0.2g when required – maximum 0.3g daily”. Like any medicine, cannabis will work for some people and for others it won’t, depending on individual differences. But one thing’s for sure: you shouldn’t let ignorance, stigma and discrimination hold you back, especially if you think it could help you.
After all, it’s been used as a medicine since ancient times, and it’s only in the last 100 or so years that a chorus of Tories have created an issue with it.