Synthetic Cannabinoids: Reclassification — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:17 am on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:17 am, 6th November 2018

I congratulate Ben Bradley on securing this debate on a subject very close to our hearts. Many others who would love to be here also support the aims of the hon. Gentleman and other speakers. I will talk about a specific case that the Minister is aware of. It is a success story in that Government policy has helped very much.

Members will know that I am a most sincere advocate for my young constituent, Sophia Gibson, who was prescribed medicinal cannabis. I watched the struggle of my constituents as they fought with every breath to legally get the help that their child needed, and today young Sophia is a different child. I want to put on the record my thanks to the Minister for his endeavours to make sure that that happened. He had the opportunity to meet Sophia Gibson, my parliamentary aide and me to talk about this matter. I know that he industriously, personally and sincerely pushed the matter for Sophia and I thank him for that. I also thank the Government for their help to make that happen. Without that help and intervention, we would not have the Sophia we have today. Like me and everyone who helped, the Minister has a photograph of that young girl who has now come on greatly.

Sophia needed medicinal cannabis to have any semblance of a life. Her courageous mummy and daddy refused to stop pushing, and refused to give in and accept drugs that had horrific side effects and did not address the severe medical issues that their daughter had. I cannot speak highly enough of Danielle and Darren, the mum and dad who put it all out there to get their daughter the help that she so desperately needed. They did it in the right way. They followed the legal procedure and paved the way for others who need an opportunity to get that help. The path is still not smooth, and the Government are honing the procedure, but because of Alfie Dingley’s mother Hannah and because of the Gibsons, it is now a possibility.

I recently saw a picture of Sophia dressed as Princess Anna for her school Hallowe’en party. That might not be noteworthy for everyone, but it was noteworthy for Sophia’s family because it was the first party that she had been able to attend at school. That says it all about what medicinal cannabis has done for that young girl and for her mum and dad.

A post on the social media page Help for Sophia’s Seizures, which updates people on Sophia’s progress, encapsulates why I stood with Danielle and Darren in their battle for help for their child, as the Minister and many in the community did. It reads:

“Nearly 14 weeks on from when Sophia was prescribed medicinal cannabis with THC on the NHS and she has NOT been hospitalised from 10th July, seizure length and frequency are reducing and Sophia is so much brighter, has a lot more energy and her ‘wee rascal’ personality is shining through. Sophia recently had a cold that lasted 5 weeks and any other year day 2 of a cold and she was hospitalised with back to back seizures but this year it has been so much different and at last for the better. Our little princess is getting bigger, stronger and better each day and we hope this continues looking into the future. This was never to cure Sophia as her syndrome is genetic but about Sophia having a better quality of childhood and that is what she is doing.”

I am undoubtedly in the corner of those in the medical profession who know that nothing else is working, but I must say clearly that that is where I draw the line. I believe that honing the process means educating doctors to know the situations that call for the prescription of whole plant cannabis, which has no additional substances added to it. I am not a doctor—far from it—and I am not medically trained, but the fact that whole plant cannabis has been proven to make such a substantial difference to young Sophia’s quality of life tells me that more research is needed into whole plant medicine. That will enable medical professionals to have the information that they so need to prescribe whole plant cannabis to others in Sophia’s situation, in which the currently available drugs are not working and are even damaging her in the long term.

We must remember the impact that every seizure has, physically and mentally, on a child’s capacity. There are people whose lives would massively benefit from whole plant cannabis. Information must be available for medical professionals to understand the medication so that they can prescribe it.