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Northern Ireland boy gets medical cannabis in UK first

Billy Caldwell, a youngster from Northern Ireland, is breaking new ground. The 11-year-old has just become the first Briton to obtain a medical cannabis prescription, having first received successful treatment for his intractable epilepsy in California. The revolutionary medicine has had a transformative effect on Billy, eradicating his seizures and improving his general wellbeing significantly. The cannabis strain that Billy has been treated with is now set to be renamed in his honor – an indication of just how big a cannabis story this is for the UK!

Travelling across continents for medical cannabis

Charlotte, Billy’s mom, was told by doctors when he was six-months-old that her son was unlikely to reach his first birthday. The intractable and statue epilepsy that Billy suffers with means that he is unable to stop intense, life-threatening seizures once they take hold.

Before getting his first medical cannabis treatment, Billy would experience as many as 100 seizures every single day. Billy is also autistic, a condition which was worsened due to the seizures. He was in constant need of care.

Doctors back home in Northern Ireland had run out of ideas for Billy. They weren’t even allowed to experiment with medical cannabis treatment as the plant is illegal in the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is a part. But Charlotte was not prepared to just sit back and wait for a miracle – she actively went in search for one, which the family found in California. Billy and Charlotte went to a Los Angeles children’s hospital in the summer of 2016 so that Billy’s condition could be investigated further.

A lesion was found on Billy’s brain but operating on it was potentially dangerous due to the position of it, so another treatment was needed. Doctors proposed to Charlotte medical cannabis oil rich in CBD.

The effects didn’t show immediately, but after eight months of CBD oil treatment, Billy was able to enjoy a quality of life that he couldn’t have even dreamt about a year earlier. He went from suffering 100 seizures a day to none in eight months. Medical experts were astonished.

The high-CBD cannabis oil also had a positive effect on Billy’s autism. He no longer has to wear ankle-supporting boots, makes better eye contact and has much-improved balance which helps his walking. Charlotte spoke about how all these seemingly minor changes have made a “massive” difference, for Billy and for her as his parent. Billy’s concentration has gotten better which is helping his learning – CBD has led to a chain reaction of positive effects.

Introducing Billy’s Bud

After several months of treatment in California, Billy’s family summoned the confidence to go back home to Northern Ireland, when the UK finally agreed to give Billy a special exemption to use medical cannabis. The law in the UK is not clear cut – while the cannabis plant is illegal, the country has legalized CBD extracts.

The UK classifies cannabis as a Class B drug, the second-most restrictive category. However, the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recently reclassified cannabidiol (CBD) as a medicine. CBD is a cannabinoid (compound unique to cannabis) that exhibits no psychoactive effects and is therefore of no recreational value.

Billy’s treatment plan includes two different cannabis oils – one with CBD, and another with THCA. There are no legal issues with the former, but as THCA turns into the psychoactive THC when decarboxylated (heated), it is an illegal substance in the United Kingdom.

The Caldwell family obtains the cannabis oil for Billy from Dublin’s GreenLight Medicines, a new pharmaceutical company focussed on medicine derived from marijuana. The company has given their CBD oil the name of ‘Billy’s Bud’, as a tribute to the brave boy.

It seems that the tribute struck a chord with the Caldwells, who “cried tears of joy” after hearing the news. Having a safe, consistent supply of CBD oil back home has made all the difference for Billy.

Final thoughts

It must have been an exhausting couple of years for Billy Caldwell and the rest of the family, but it looks like things are on the up. “This is massive,” said Charlotte, summing things up beautifully. Hopefully this sets the tone for more heart-warming medical cannabis stories from the UK.

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