Updated on January 21, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Does anyone have the right to prohibit the use of alternative medicine that restores the quality of life for a patient? The story of Billy Caldwell and his family captured international attention after his mother was detained, and the cannabis oil was confiscated at Heathrow Airport in 2018. Billy has severe epilepsy that makes activities of daily living impossible, without cannabis.
Charlotte Caldwell is the director of a company called Billy’s Bud. Her business sells hemp-derived CBD oil (which is legal) in the United Kingdom. Charlotte has also been a vocal campaigner for the legalization of medical marijuana in the UK for many years. The Caldwell family lives in Ireland.
After Billy and his mother Charlotte disembarked at Heathrow airport, their bags were searched for arriving from Canada. Cannabis vape oil was found by customs authorities and confiscated. Since medical cannabis is not available in the UK, the family sourced small personal-use quantities on Canada trips so that Billy could have THC oil for his epileptic seizures.
Global news outlets covered the unfortunate situation. While the Caldwell family was sorting out that Billy had severe epilepsy and used cannabis therapeutically, the child had a seizure in the airport. The Grand Mal seizure was so bad that Billy Caldwell rushed from the airport to the hospital. It was a life-threatening situation that could have been treated immediately with medical cannabis.
The fact that denying Billy Caldwell access to medicinal cannabis caused an emergency health situation angered many. Patients in the UK have been unsuccessful at lobbying for the legalization of medical cannabis. But Billy and his experience may be the cathartic event that could get the legislative wheels moving in the United Kingdom.
What Are The Current Medical Marijuana Laws in the United Kingdom?
Cannabis is currently categorized as a Class B drug in the United Kingdom and an illegal or controlled substance. Other drugs in this category include amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine, ketamine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, and synthetic cathinones (mephedrone, methoxetamine).
Possession of cannabis in personal use quantities can result in a charge and sentencing of up to five (5) years in prison. And also an ‘unlimited fine,’ which is a scary thing to consider. Supply or production of a Class B drug in the United Kingdom can result in a sentence of fourteen (14) years and an unlimited fine.
In the UK, you cannot possess, grow, or distribute cannabis legally. And there is no such thing as a medical marijuana program in the country, acknowledged by communities or boroughs, or at the federal level. However, it is expected for Police to issue a warning or small fine and confiscate cannabis if you are found with a personal amount.
You cannot smoke cannabis in public, nor can you smoke it in the privacy of your own home. The United Kingdom is decidedly anti-cannabis legislatively. But that is not how citizens feel. Particularly those who have debilitating health conditions. Or caregivers for minors who have chronic diseases. They have been lobbying hard for a medical marijuana program for qualified patients.
Billy Caldwell Was Prescribed THC-A By a Physician in Ireland to Treat His Epilepsy
Some people have got Billy and Charlotte Caldwell’s story wrong. They did not simply pack up for a trip to Canada to purchase medical cannabis. Billy was prescribed THC-A by his primary care provider in Ireland. The physician knew that Billy suffered an average of 100 seizures per day.
For Billy, life with severe epilepsy is more than problematic. He cannot predict when or where he will have a seizure. And the type of seizures can range from Petite Mal (mild) to Grand Mal (severe and potentially life-threatening). Following a moderate to severe seizure, Billy experiences muscle pain and fatigue, and sometimes nausea.
Charlotte Caldwell thought she was going her due diligence, traveling with a prescription for THC-A cannabis oil from a physician. As someone who runs a quality hemp oil company, she knew there was a possibility of being detained—and having the cannabis oil confiscated. But since even the highest grade of CBD oil did not work to soften and reduce her son’s seizures, she needed to try something new.
After Billy was rushed to the hospital with his Grand Mal seizure, the hospital administered THC. Billy emerged from his seizure and was discharged with a 20-day temporary prescription for THC-A, a low THC cannabis oil with a high CBD ratio. The Home Office issued the prescription. For people with epilepsy, CBD helps reduce the build-up of lactic acid in joints and muscles affected by inflammation before and after a seizure.
Billy Caldwell Has Been Issued a Lifetime Use Medical Cannabis License for Epilepsy
Many families across the UK have been petitioning the National Health Service (NHS) to access medical marijuana. Like the Caldwell family, caregivers are frustrated that medical cannabis is available in many other countries but not in the United Kingdom. Even for patients who have the most debilitating symptoms.
The November announcement for the Caldwell family has created new hope that the National Health Service will authorize more medical cannabis treatments for patients.
The NHS will now fund Billy Caldwell’s treatment plan for severe epilepsy. That will also include the cost of his doctor follow-ups and continuing care. Neurologists are treating the teen at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. And he has been granted a lifetime license to receive medical cannabis for his lifesaving treatments. Billy received a signed and framed lifetime prescription for marijuana from the NHS, to treat his epilepsy.