Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell started the wave of change for access to medical cannabis in the UK.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been archived and will no longer receive updates.
Update (2019): Alfie is doing well. His family still struggles to receive support from the NHS. They have found that cycling between two cannabis strains seems to keep his seizures down most effectively. When able to do so, Alfie has been able to ride a bike, a horse, and go to school regularly.
Billy made news in early 2020 when it was announced that he would be given a prescription for cannabis, and that a trust would be funding the medical expenditure.
In the UK, medical cannabis has been a hot topic. In fact, cannabis in general has been a hot topic for years in the UK, with Scotland and England drastically divided on the topic. The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has shown her support for medical cannabis but the power to decide ‘drug regulation’ has not been given to Scottish Parliament. Westminster, however, has been forced to review the use of medical cannabis after the high profile fights of pediatric patients, Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, both epilepsy sufferers, to gain access to cannabis.
Alfie Dingley and his parents, Hannah Deacon and Drew Dingley, have taken drastic steps to gain cannabis oil for Alfie’s condition. After moving to the Netherlands and receiving a prescription for cannabis, the family tried to return home to the UK, but it wouldn’t be that simple.
Alfie Dingley’s Fight for Access to Cannabis
Alfie Dingley has had quite the struggle. Up until the beginning of November 2018, cannabis had been a schedule I drug in the UK. This means it is not recognized to have any medicinal benefit. In that case, any person in possession of these substances could face criminal penalty.
However, a review of cannabis has turned toward rescheduling – something that may have had to come soon enough anyway, with WHO looking to reschedule through the UN. As of November 1 of this year, specialized doctors can prescribe medical cannabis in severe cases. But when Alfie Dingley’s struggle with epilepsy took a serious turn, this wasn’t the case.
Alfie struggled with as many as 150 seizures in a single month – that’s roughly 5 a day. His parents had made the decision to move to the Netherlands to test out medical cannabis when all other options failed. The current range of prescription drugs had side effects, and seemed to do very little for Alfie’s illness.
Eventually, the family decided to move home, bringing Alfie’s medical cannabis prescription with them. However, the legality of cannabis called into question Alfie’s ability to continue to have access to his medicine.
In March 2018, Alfie’s family petitioned the British government. Now located in Kenilworth, England, he needed special approval by the government in order to get the medicine he needed.
Alfie Dingley Wins One For All Of UK
On June 19 of this year, Alfie was granted a license for medical cannabis use. Ms. Deacon told the Independent about her excitement, “for the first time ever in this country, we have brought back THC oil through the airport legally, which is amazing.”
For Alfie, this was life changing. His mother has pointed to the dramatic changes in his life for which medical cannabis is solely responsible. Ms. Deacon described the improvements: “He’s going to school every day, he’s riding a horse, he’s riding a bike. He has a pretty much normal life … and has not had any seizures.” In fact, he’s been seizure-free since July.
Even his teachers have commented on how much his work at school has improved. Ms. Deacon said that Alfie’s teachers have struggled to keep up with his rapid improvements. Cannabis oil completely changed Alfie’s life – for the better.
The UK is Waking Up to the Power of Medical Cannabis
Alfie Dingley, Billy Caldwell, and their respective parents have dramatically altered the conversation around medical cannabis. They have shone the spotlight on cannabis for childhood epilepsy. These children are fortunate to have parents who understand that stigma surrounding a plant is far less important than gaining them life saving medicine.
The government is finally starting to catch up. Dame Sally Davies, Westminster’s chief medical advise, was quoted saying, “There is now … conclusive evidence of the therapeutic benefit of cannabis-based medicinal products for certain medical conditions and reasonable evidence of therapeutic benefit in several other medical conditions.” Based on this, she suggested a complete rescheduling.
In a similar vein, Professor Mike Barnes, a medical cannabis expert, suggested to doctors that they, “embrace these development” despite their reasonable doubts. He goes on to say that, “Compared to many pharmaceutical drugs, whole plant medical cannabis products are remarkably safe and … can produce dramatic improvements for patients.” In fact, Professor Barnes is responsible for Alfie’s license for medical cannabis.
Thanks to advocates like Alfie’s family and Professor Barnes, cannabis is having a new heyday in the UK. It’s one that hopefully goes even further in due time.