Imagine your cost of living is $500 per week. That’s not including rent, bills, groceries and other everyday expenses. That’s just how much it costs to stay alive. For Ben Oakley, and many other users of legal medicinal cannabis, that is a reality.
Ben suffers from Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS): a rare neurological condition that causes progressive muscle stiffness and subsequent muscle spasms. It primarily affects the midline of the spinal cord, meaning those with SPS often lose their ability to walk and perform daily tasks.
Ben was 17 when he first showed signs; he was an active athlete with plans to join the navy. Now he attends rehab four days a week to relearn how to perform everyday tasks.
It took a year for doctors to diagnose Ben, and even when they found a name for his condition, they couldn’t fully comprehend the cause or effects it would have. He was in and out of hospital for months, given a cocktail of different medications for pain relief, and suffered up to 600 spasms, lasting from a few seconds to a few hours.
“The best way I can describe it is like an epileptic seizure, but you’re fully conscious at the time”, he said. “It feels like being tasered. Both my parents are former nurses, and they always refer to the method of rating your pain from one to ten, with ten being the worst. They think a full body spasm would be about a 14.”
After a lot of trial and error, Ben finally found something to ease the pain and give him his life back: cannabis oil, from marijuana. Up until January last year, Ben was receiving medicinal cannabis free-of-charge from woman in North-Adelaide, who had been supplying the drug to many sick patients across Australia. That was until police raided her home and seized her equipment and supply. Although what Ben was doing was technically illegal, he says it’s the only thing that gave him his life back:
“I’ve never been high in my life, apart from the side effects of all the totally legal pain medication that I’ve been put on. At first, I was really reluctant to try the cannabis oil, because I knew it was a flat out illegal drug, but now I’ll never go back. The media, the government and the police make it out to be devil’s drug which it’s absolutely not. It’s an incredible medication with so much potential.”
Recent changes to medicinal cannabis laws mean that while patients can obtain legal cannabis oil within 48 hours of prescription, the bureaucracy and financial hurdles outweigh its accessibility.
“It is honestly easier to access a firearm than medicinal cannabis in this country,” Ben said, and he should know.
He estimates that of all the people in NSW that require medicinal cannabis, only about fifty go through the legal avenues.
“A cannabis plant costs less than $10 a day to produce and maintain, so why are they charging $1500 a pop? The government is making the black market flourish with all the hoops they make people jump through. I’d like to see the data of how many people actually go through the legal process.”
The Greens have recently pushed for federal legalisation of all marijuana, medicinal and recreational. Despite their suggestion being rejected once again , Ben thinks is a step in the right direction.
“I’d so much rather see someone smoking a joint in the street than off their face on alcohol. You can be a happy drunk or a violent drunk and drink to excess and it’s legal, but if you’re smoking the most you’ll get is high, mellow and calm. This country definitely has its priorities mixed up, but if we can get better access to medical marijuana I think that’s a good starting point.”
Ben will be speaking at the Hemp and Health Innovation Expo and Symposium at Rose Hill Gardens, Sydney over May 12 and 13.