Like most teenagers, Lucy Stafford has plans. Normal plans. The plans anyone makes as they progress into adulthood. She wants to complete her degree, spend time with friends and family, and explore her independence.
But, unlike most teenagers, the 19-year-old from Cambridge has a rare and debilitating medical condition – Ehlers Danlos syndrome – that affects her connective tissue, causing her limbs to dislocate and muscles to spasm. When the Observer interviewed her last week she had dislocated her shoulder that morning, a common occurrence.
And yet she was disarmingly, joyously upbeat.
The reason? She is one of the very few people in the UK to have been issued with a private prescription for medical cannabis since the drug was legalised a year ago last Friday, something that she and her doctor claim has transformed her life.
Having suffered lengthy bouts of chronic pain since she was 10, Stafford has spent most of her teenage years on strong opiates, most recently fentanyl, the synthetic analgesic 50 times more potent than heroin.
Down the years, she has had numerous operations and treatments for lower-back pain, including steroid injections, and has been prescribed courses of the powerful painkiller tramadol, to which she became physically dependent. Her vomiting was so severe she was admitted to hospital for intravenous rehydration. She has endured multiple sepsis and urinary tract infections and for much of her life has needed a catheter. Long stays in hospital have been common.
“Coming off fentanyl was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Stafford, who since she started taking medical cannabis has begun studying with the Open University. “This prescription saved my life.”
She talked about dislocating her shoulder as if she had stubbed her toe.
“Before cannabis I would have had to take a large amount of opiates. I would have been … crying in pain for most of it, whereas now I am able to function. Sure I need to rest and take it easy but it has made living with my condition manageable and lets me function and have a life, something I never expected to have.”