Lately, though, this blog really has gone to pot. There´s a plethora of reasons for this …
… I lie. There´s only one: the disconnect between my brother, who has a glioblastoma brain tumour, and a substance called THC.
For some background info on this, see a previous post here.
Anyway, tetrahydrocannabinol´s name should be changed to tetrahydro-cannot-at-all, since this substance, found in marihuana, or as it´s commonly called in Spain, maría, is as elusive to the brain cancer patient as, well, life. Over fifteen months, my brother has had the standard, costly treatment of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy – cut, burn and poison as its detractors call it – but the tumour is now growing unchecked and chemotherapy has destroyed his body. He´s been “given” six months to live by his doctors.
Friends and family have been a great help. Most have lent support in the form of lifts to and from hospital, coffees and drinks (when he got ill, my brother´s income from guitar classes fell to nothing) talking and cheering up. Some have been praying. My friends and neighbours here in Spain have enquired after him as though he lived up the next close.
I´ve nagged him to juice vegetables and take a disgusting concoction of linseed oil and cottage cheese every morning because these figure on a private, Spanish cancer clinic´s protocol.
A friend of my brother suggested he take extract of graviola, or South American pawpaw. He´s taking nine capsules a day.
Surfing online, I learned about the healing properties of cannabis, particularly in “oil” (resin) form. I also found out that at the Complutense University of Madrid, there´s a biochemist who tested cannabis on rats until his funding was cut. His work suggests that cannabis can provoke apoptosis, or cell death, in cancerous glioma brain cells without damaging healthy ones.
I wrote to Professor Manuel Guzmán (above) who promptly suggested that my brother be prescibed Sativex, a form of medical cannabis that is legal in Scotland. Failing that, he should make illegal cannabis oil – yes, this oncologist told us to get the illegal buds and make the oil – and sent me a link to a slightly off-putting stoner video on how to do it.
My brother took copies of Prof. Guzmán´s emails (in very good English) to his GP. He had never heard of Sativex but on looking it up he told my brother that it wasn´t on his “protocol” – it was only approved for patients with MS. (They can´t get it either, but that´s another story). His consultant echoed this.
So began a trek, both in Scotland and the UK, for cannabis. It´s illegal in the UK, but small amounts for personal consumption are permitted here.
I spent untold hours online and asked everybody I met about cannabis. I nearly fell for a Nigerian cannabis oil scam, tried to access sites on cannabis which turned out to be censored by our service provider, ONO, and unsuccessfully sought out Canadian Rick Simpson who revived consumer interest in medical cannabis and who is now a fugitive from Canadian justice.
My husband, having stood around on street corners and found little, tried to join a cannabis users club in Paracuellos del Jarama to get at the very affordable oil in its dispensary. Despite an interview out by some woods (and a Civil Guard Training School) and many pleading phone calls, he hasn´t been admitted to date.
We´ve both made multiple trips to grow shops in Alcalá but although the staff are sympathetic, they have made no effort to sell us anything – in fact, they stressed that the plants take six months to grow and the terrible heat of the Spanish summer might finish them off!
Fortunately, at the end of last year, a friend managed to get me fifty euros worth of buds, cogollos de marihuana, from Salamanca. It was a tiny amount, not quite 9 grams. (It stank to the high heavens)!
The THC can be extracted from the buds using isopropyl alcohol as a solvent but this leaves a very reduced resin. Since I had so few buds, I decided to follow Prof. Guzmán´s method and use olive oil and water in a pressure cooker. This gives an amount that´s manageable – you can store it in a small container – though less potent than the resin, which is usually stored in small syringes.
I packaged it up in a padded envelope with a highly perfumed, rabbit-shaped dooda for placing on sore muscles. This microwaveable, floral item wasn´t for my brother but to help the package seem legit if it was opened. For this reason, I also put my address on the back.
I hoped the pong of perfume might throw off any sniffer dogs, but I was wrong. The oil never arrived and two months later my brother got a letter from the UK Border Agency saying it was being confiscated.
I hope somebody´s lumbago benefitted from the gel-filled rabbit, not to mention the lovely green stuff in a cleaned out face-cream container.
Now we´re waiting for “a pal that used to play in a band with a guy that knows this other guy” to come up with the oil. At two hundred quid a gram, a three month treatment plan of 60g would cost an absurd 12,000 pounds. We can´t afford it, even if we do get a “discount” due to the fact the oil is not for getting high on.
Oh, and remember Sativex? It´s now in trials at the very hospital my brother attends and he was interviewed for elegibility. However, it´s only the pain-relieving power of Sativex that´s being tested and since he´s not on morphine, he´s out.
And all that running about we did trying to get the buds? We thought that if we got a reliable supply my brother could come to our house and have as much oil as he needed. Well, we came up blank.
Till last week. Apparently, we´re sitting on a veritable mountain of the stuff, now that my brother´s not well enough to travel.
Following Uruguay´s recent lead, cannabis will eventually be legalised in the UK. But eventually´s no good to us. So could somebody, somewhere, somehow get a three-month supply of cannabis oil to my brother?
My final word to expat readers in Spain is this: if you as much as suspect the “C” word in your life, particularly in someone in the UK, google up Easyjet and get your spare room ready. First of all though, hurry to your nearest grow shop, or online grow shop, and buy a basic starter pack for growing cannabis from seeds for about a hundred and fifty quid.
You could save a life.