A LEADING cannabis campaigner claims multiple sclerosis sufferers are being driven into the arms of illegal dealers selling the drug laced with glass because doctors refuse to prescribe it as medicine.
Jeffrey Ditchfield, who was hauled through the courts after saying he was selling the drug as medicine from a Rhyl cafe, says dealers are now lacing Welsh cannabis with dangerous substances.
Mr Ditchfield says he closed his cafe, The Beggar’s Belief, after UK doctors were given permission by the Home Office to prescribe cannabis-derived medicines like Sativex.
But landlord Mr Ditchfield, 49, says medics are very reluctant to prescribe Sativex to MS patients, who are then forced to buy cannabis illegally from dealers.
Though Sativex, a nasal spray, is still unlicensed in this country, in 2005 the Home Office said the drug could be imported from Canada for patients.
But doctors can only get the drug through the Home Office and have to take responsibility for prescribing the medication.
Mr Ditchfield, the author of Cannabis Cultivator: A Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Marijuana, says: “Very, very fine small glass beads are sprayed on the cannabis because they look like crystal tricones, which contain the cannabinoids people want.
“I have noticed that in the last few years the quality of cannabis in Wales has fallen dramatically.
“Sativex could definitely be prescribed more. Some GPs will prescribe it as an unlicensed medicine.
“But others, by refusing even to consider it, are sending some of their most vulnerable patients into the hands of dealers.”
Contaminated cannabis could cause health problems like breathing difficulties and severe lung damage, he says.
Mr Ditchfield’s book, published in 2007, was translated into Spanish and has sold throughout South America as well as in the English-speaking world.
Mr Ditchfield, who admits to using the drug recreationally, says he is considering moving to Spain – he owns a property in Costa Cálida, near Alicante – because the authorities have a more relaxed attitude to cannabis growing.
He is now working on a new book, The Medicinal Application Of Cannabis, as part of a three-title deal with London-based publisher Anova.
He says he wants to help MS sufferers throughout the world to control their symptoms.
Proceeds from his first book have gone towards running his website which offers advice on the medical, recreational and personal use of cannabis.
He says: “My first book was printed in 34 countries throughout the world, translated into Spanish and published in South America.
“I’m very proud of the fact that it’s helped so many people all over the world grow cannabis. I get e-mails from people all the time thanking me.”
Mr Ditchfield says he became involved in campaigning for the medicinal use of cannabis after a friend used it to control her MS.
He was twice found not guilty of supplying the drug following crown court trials after relying on the defence that it was a medical necessity.
But the Court of Appeal later ruled he was wrongfully acquitted because the defence should not have applied.
Hospital trusts can fund treatment with Sativex on the NHS. Otherwise, the drug would cost patients around £4 to £5 a day through private prescriptions.
In 2005 researchers at Liverpool’s Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery said Sativex could significantly reduce nerve pain in MS patients.
The researchers compared the drug with a dummy version in a study of 66 patients.
Dr Carolyn Young, who led the research published in the journal Neurology, said the drug was seen to reduce pain and sleep disturbance.
But consultant neurologist Dr Trevor Pickersgill said prescribing the medication through the Home Office was a “bureaucratic nightmare” and there was still no evidence of the drug’s benefits for MS sufferers.
Dr Pickersgill, of the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, said: “Patients have demanded it from our NHS clinic and we have politely refused and said if their doctor is willing to prescribe it that’s fine, but it’s not something we can do through our specialist clinic.
“As a doctor and a scientist I have to say that we try to follow evidence-based medicine and the actual evidence that these drugs work is not very good.”
The company which makes Sativex, GW Pharmaceuticals, has been seeking a UK licence for Sativex since 2003.
It has been granted a licence to cultivate cannabis for medical research purposes in the UK.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “Since the commencement of the clinical trials which supported the initial application to the MHRA, patients who were prescribed Sativex, and received benefit from the treatment, were allowed to continue to receive further supplies.
“To support this, on December 9, 2005 the Home Office issued an open general licence for Sativex which allows practitioners to prescribe, pharmacists to dispense and patients to possess it.”
By Darren Devine