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British Seize CBD From 12-Year-Old Epilepsy Patient at Heathrow Airport

June 11, 2018
(Alastair Grant/AP)
A brief standoff between a 12-year-old medical marijuana patient and the United Kingdom government ended Monday with law enforcement officials seizing cannabis oil—“smuggled openly” from Canada, where the drug is legal—from the parent of an epileptic child at Heathrow Airport in London.

Twelve-year-old Billy Caldwell, a native of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, at one point suffered as many as 100 severe epileptic seizures a day. Following successful cannabis-based treatments in the United States, he made history last year when he became the first patient in the UK’s National Health Service to receive a prescription for a cannabis plant-based medicine.

Billy Caldwell, seen here with his mother Charlotte, calms his seizures with CBD. (Keep Billy Alive/Facebook)

He later went 250 days without a seizure, according to his mother, Charlotte Caldwell, before officials with the Home Office, the UK’s law-enforcement wing that enforces drug-control laws, informed the boy’s doctor to cease issuing the medicine under penalty of disbarment.

Charlotte Caldwell then traveled to Canada to buy a “small bottle” of CBD oil, and publicly announced her plans to declare the drugs at customs upon her return to the UK.

Upon her arrival, authorities confiscated the medicine—a high-CBD, low-THC medication made by Canadian producer Tilray. [Editor’s note: Tilray is owned by Privateer Holdings, which also owns Leafly.]


Minister: Sorry, No CBD For Billy

Following an airport press conference, Caldwell went to meet with Nick Hurd, the UK’s Minister of State for Policing, to beg to have the oil returned. Her request was denied. Hurd had promised to meet with Caldwell to cobble together some sort of solution, but a scheduled meeting time came and went with no solution—and no medical cannabis for Billy Caldwell.

As a result, Billy Caldwell missed his first dose of cannabis oil in more than a year on Monday. Charlotte Caldwell has since vowed to find an additional source of cannabis oil—without which her son will die, she has claimed.

A spokesperson with the Home Office told the Guardian that while it “is sympathetic to the difficult and rare situation that Billy and his family are faced with… Border Force has a duty to stop banned substances from entering the UK.”


Non-Intoxicating, ‘Good Safety Profile’

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, the efficacy of which has inspired states across the US’s conservative Bible Belt, including Texas and Georgia, to pass laws allowing access to the drug. Just last week the World Health Organization’s committee on drugs issued a critical review report on CBD. That report found that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile,” and “has been demonstrated as an effective treatment of epilepsy in several clinical trials.”

“In humans,” the WHO report concluded, “CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.”

And drug companies, including the UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, are developing prescription drugs to combat epilepsy using cannabinoids including CBD.

In an ironic twist that drug-policy reform advocates say is blatant hypocrisy, Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister in directly in charge of drugs and who has spoken out directly against legalizing cannabis, is married to Paul Kenward, whose firm, British Sugar, is licensed to grow the exact strain of high-CBD cannabis Billy Caldwell needs.

Cannabis oil high in CBD and low in THC remains illegal in the United Kingdom, where cannabis is a Class B drug. Penalties for possession include a prison sentence of up to five years, and efforts in Parliament to legalize medical cannabis, headed by backbenchers from minority parties not in power, have thus far gone nowhere.

Another Case: 6-Year-Old Alfie

The case of another epileptic boy in the UK, six-year-old Alfie Dingley, whose family took him to the Netherlands for him to legally obtain treatment, has drawn attention from doctors in Parliament as well as celebrities like actor Patrick Stewart, who accompanied Alfie’s parents to deliver a petition with 380,000 signatures demanding a legal solution to Prime Minister Theresa May’s office.

Yet no solution has been announced, and the issue has thus far been stalemated in Parliament. The last time a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana was set to be considered in Parliament, it was not called for a hearing.

“To prevent a child from accessing a medicine that can reduce the likelihood of death from severe seizures as in the case of Alfie Dingley is shocking and cruel, but to literally take a child’s medicine away that has reduced his life threatening seizures from 100 per day to 1 or 2 per month is nothing short of criminal,” said Jonathan Liebling, political director for the United Patients’ Alliance, the UK’s most prominent pro-medical cannabis advocacy group. “We are stunned and disgusted that the UK Home Office have allowed this to happen today.”

“There can be no more excuses,” Liebling told Leafly News. “On behalf of Alfie, Billy and the estimated 1.1 million medical cannabis patients in the UK, we demand that this be addressed immediately.”


Clarification: An earlier version of this story failed to mention that the high-CBD medication obtained by Billy Caldwell and his mother also contained a small amount of THC, with a CBD-to-THC ratio of 50:1.

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Chris Roberts

Based in New York City, Chris Roberts has been writing about cannabis since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009. His work has been published in SF Weekly, Cannabis Now, The Guardian, High Times, and San Francisco Magazine, among others.

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  • Open Minds

    GW Pharmaceuticals which is an English company that is publicly listed in NASDAQ, is about to get FDA approval for Epidiolex, a pure CBD medicine derived directly from cannabis. So it’s ok for for an English company to produce CBD in England, but it’s not ok for English people to consume CBD!? That is the definition of hypocrisy and corruption…

  • Les Stettner

    Ignorance or cruelty? If this CBD has been shown to limit the amount of seizures and the other medicine she takes, why in the world would you prevent that? Approach Royalty. My view is life is short and it is better healthy. Anything remotely possible and affordable to help a little girl with health issues should be acted upon, not penalized by your very weak approach to medicine. Maybe it is just plain ignorance. No excuse and Great Britain is showing why it isn’t great anymore. If she were your child, ask yourself what you would do after seeing improvement. Disgusting. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. CBD’s are not marijuana. The active ingredient THC has been removed. I am not a clinician but I have come across in my life many who have self medicated with it and got straight A’s at Ivy league schools and graduate school and are practicing extremely well in their careers. Perhaps they don’t have medical issues and were helped by CBD’s or genetically superior in this particular regard. Do you really want to further strain your inferior medical system. Wake up and smell an advance in medical science. I’ve been told by 5 Neurologists that Marijuana is medicine. I can’t dispute that as a non user, but in college 40 years ago, I did well and also smoked it occasionally. No hallucinations which is ridiculous. Alcohol is and always will be the gateway drug. Now what? Give this young child a chance. Your behavior as a Government is atrocious and to repeat myself cruel with no values. Horrible judgement. She will probably live and have a very limited existence. Imagine the career she will have. Imagine you can help and if she were yours, I am sure you would be fighting for the coverage. Any parent would. What is wrong with Great Britain? Parents don’t want their children at any age to become dependent on some drug like our opioid crisis. A dangerous drug traced to importing from China both with and with out poison. CBD’s are not a gateway to anything but a potential cure. Are you catering to the pharmaceutical companies who don’t want to see progress unless it comes from them? Very disappointing and embarrassing to Great Britain, not taking care of it’s own children. Pitiful. I can only hope you see or experience for yourself Epilepsy or seizure disorder and how devastating it is to one’s memory and suffering because of that, potentially getting physically hurt or 99% of epileptics die while driving. Please reconsider. You are putting lives at risk by making CBD’s illegal. Everyone knows of the problems England experienced with drugs as a Country. This is far from that. Great Britain’s approach to medical delivery is dangerous. I wouldn’t want to get sick there if they treat little girls like this. Now I don’t even want to visit, anymore. I hope there are people who feel the same way. I will never get near England because you won’t be in a Country that truly cares about the outcomes of it’s medical system. Pathetic.