About once a day, 11-year-old Billy Caldwell could expect to almost die.
Thirty times a month, Billy would suffer a seizure serious enough to require a dose of medication and an oxygen mask in order to survive. Doctors were helpless. According to his parents, overmatched medical professionals sent him home from a hospital unhealed with a mortal warning—he could go at any time. Be prepared.
A terrible story—but a familiar one in the cannabis world. And since this is a cannabis publication, it has the familiar happy ending, but with a twist.
Earlier this year, after receiving a cannabis oil-based treatment in California, Billy Caldwell became the first person to receive a prescription for medical cannabis from the National Health Service, the United Kingdom’s single-payer public healthcare system.
This means Billy Caldwell enjoys at least two things—public-funded healthcare, and a medical marijuana prescription—very few Americans enjoy by themselves, and possibly no Americans enjoy together. He also hasn’t had a single seizure in more than 300 days, his mother Charlotte told the Irish Independent.
“Billy is doing absolutely incredible, he’s improving every week and making progress,” she told the newspaper. “I never anticipated a year ago that he would even still be here today, so I’m feeling really good and positive.”
Billy’s first recovery from his epilepsy occurred in 2009, also after an extended visit to the U.S. After a few good years, the seizures returned in 2016. Bereft and out of options, they returned to the U.S. for more treatment. Doctors discovered the heart of the matter—he had an inoperable lesion on one side of his brain.
He could be treated, however, which led to Billy and his mother experiencing all the joys of seeking specialized medical treatment in a country with no nationalized healthcare. According to his mother, the pair briefly flirted with homelessness.
Living in Los Angeles for several months, receiving cannabis oil, Billy suffered a serious setback and had to be hospitalized. Bills from that hospital stay, coupled with the cost of his specialized treatment for his epilepsy, left Charlotte Caldwell with no money to pay for the pair’s accommodation, and led to her claim in a Facebook post that the pair had purchased tents, sleeping bags and a camp stove in preparation for sleeping out on the streets.
Concerned benefactors kicked in and kept the pair indoors before their return to Ireland a few months later, where Billy began receiving hemp-based CBD oil under supervision from his doctor.
Billy Caldwell’s remarkable recovery should be precedent setting.
But this is the United Kingdom. The home of Brexit and the inspiration for the nativist know-nothing brand of politics sweeping a reality-television has-been into the White House is one of the U.S.’s few rivals in the western world for title of most regressive attitude on drug policy reform.
In an interview in the Metro UK, Brendan O’Hare, Billy’s doctor, took pains to emphasize that nobody else is getting medical marijuana on his watch. Nobody! That would be improper.
“Whatever the rights and wrongs, we had a child who had benefitted and the child’s welfare was paramount. On that basis I issued a prescription,” he said, sounding nothing like a man forced to compromise his morals for his career. “This was not to open the floodgates for others, it is a one-off.”
We have a kid who should be dead who is not. Parents live for this kind of thing.
According to Charlotte, dozens of other parents have contacted her to inquire about acquiring CBD oil for their own children. So many, in fact, that Charlotte is throwing a sort of festival—Billy’s BudFest, named after the product, now available for sale at www.billysbud.com, named after Billy Caldwell.
(According to the website, the product appears to be manufactured and sold in the United States, although the offerings are price in pounds sterling—up to £189.99 for an 100-milliliter bottle. If it’s exported or transported across state lines, it can’t contain THC and must therefore be entirely hemp-derived.)
So. There’s an air of commercialism, sure—another familiar trope in the cannabis world.
But! Billy Caldwell appears to have inspired medical marijuana and legalization activists throughout the UK. They now have a talisman as well as a convincing story to tell. If that changes UK marijuana policy, then so be it.