A Cork woman who has suffered long-term severe pain as a result of complications from a series of surgeries has spoken about how medicinal cannabis has helped her come off all her medications.
Alicia Maher (35), from Mayfield, had no quality of life and was on more than 30 painkillers a day until she sourced the cannabis vape on the black market.
Alicia’s problems started aged 17 when she went in for a routine surgery to have her tonsils removed.
“I had complications afterwards. The left side of my throat opened up first, it haemorrhaged, and I had to go back for further surgery,” she told The Neil Prendeville Show on Cork’s RedFM.
“A week later, the other side of my throat opened up as well, so I had to go back for a second surgery to have that side closed up.
“I was an inpatient of the South Infirmary for a couple of months because I had to be treated with antibiotics. But when I was in the South Infirmary, I started bleeding from the bowel.
“They transferred me to CUH to see a specialist but when I was an inpatient there, I got toxic megacolon, so my colon haemorrhaged while I was in the hospital.
“I had emergency surgery then and they removed my entire colon and I woke up with an ileostomy bag.
“That was my final year in school so I missed my Leaving Cert because I got pneumonia after the surgery.
It was awful. I didn’t know what happened. I was in shock for a couple of years afterwards because I’d only gone in to have my tonsils removed.
Despite suffering from severe post-traumatic stress and depression, she completed her Leaving Cert the following year.
However, she received more bad news when pre-cancerous cells were found in her rectum, meaning she underwent a proctectomy to remove her entire rectum and anus.
While recovering from that, she contracted MRSA and began to experience chronic pain.
Doctors undertook investigations under anaesthetic in subsequent years and, in 2010, found a fistula, a hole in the scar tissue where Alicia had her rectum removed.
“The options at that stage were to have a foot-long muscle from each of my legs taken and some of my stomach to patch up my insides or have a morphine box inserted into my stomach.”
Alicia declined, because she thought the pain was coming from the bones in her back.
“Since 2015, when I got sciatica, my painkillers were increased and for the last two years I’d been taking more than 30 painkillers a day.
It was absolutely horrendous. I couldn’t walk for more than five minutes, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t sit, so I had no choice but to do everything [for college] at home lying on my back.
“My whole life revolved around every four hours having to take the medication and forcing myself to eat every four hours, otherwise I would get sick. It was absolutely horrendous. I’ve spent the last two years at home not able to do anything.”
Increasingly suffering from fatigue and forgetfulness, she was referred to her pain management clinic for an urgent appointment last year. However, her pain consultant had left the department and hadn’t been replaced, so all future appointments were cancelled.
I was absolutely terrified. I had no idea what to do. I was on the highest dosage of some of the medication already.
“It was a 10 (out of 10 for pain) the entire time. It’s very hard to smile or even laugh when you’re consumed by pain the entire time. It takes over your life.”
It was then she turned to the cannabis vape.
“From the very first dose, it reduced the pain,” she said. “The pain is fully controlled with cannabis and I’m not taking any medication as of four weeks ago.
“When I wake up in the morning, I still have the pain but I use the cannabis first thing and it completely gets rid of not only the pain in my coccyx bone, it completely gets rid of my sciatica, all the pain I had in my rectum, everything. It’s more effective than the medication ever was.
“The pain just melts away within a couple of minutes. It’s absolutely phenomenal. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not tried it myself.”
Her application for a licence to use medicinal cannabis was rejected this week because it needs to be signed off by a consultant, but she hasn’t been assigned a new one since last year.
From being consigned to staying inside her house, in the past month she’s been able to return to university (she’s studying a PhD in law in UL on the regulation of medical cannabis in Ireland), do her first conference paper, and is organising a conference in UL.
“It’s completely given me my life back. I can finally laugh again.”
The Department of health referred queries to its existing guidance around the use of cannabis for medical purposes, which refers to a Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) review in 2017 which noted that all patients using cannabis “should be under the direct supervision of an appropriately trained and experienced medical consultant”.
The Department of Health overview also says: “Medical cannabis products that meet accepted quality standards have not, as yet, been made available by producers directly to the Irish marketplace. Until these products are available in Ireland, it will be a matter for the prescriber and their patient to source the prescribed medical cannabis-based product”. The overview provides details for a pharmacy in the Netherlands.