A Kiwi woman has shared her incredible story of finding relief from intractable epilepsy for the first time in 15 years, thanks to medical cannabis.
The woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, was a "perfectly healthy woman" until a number of stressful events in her life caused her to suffer from debilitating seizures.
"Too many things happened at the same time. My baby was early, and my mother had three strokes," she told Newshub.
Her seizures come in clusters, which means she might not have them for a week, but then have them three times a day for five or six days in a row. She says the medical events have caused her to become isolated from her friends, family and community.
"You might think you want to go to a party, or to the library, but then you think about having a seizure, and you become quite anxious," she said.
She says that mental health goes hand and hand with epilepsy, and that anxiety quite often triggers her seizures.
"Anxiety triggers the seizures, seizures triggers the anxiety, and it just goes on. It's like a circle that doesn't stop," she said.
The woman tried "every combination of medication she could try" before seeking out medical cannabis.
"These other medications just make you want to sleep. You didn't want to eat. You just want to lie on the couch. It's really like you have taken a drug."
She heard about others in the epilepsy community having success with medical cannabis, and decided to talk to her neurologist about it.
"I was in a really bad space, in a really bad cluster of seizures. I said to him - I'll try anything, I just can't deal with this anymore."
The woman began a treatment programme of high dose CBD. CBD is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, and is known to produce calming effects, without getting the user "high".
She still had seizures at first, but they decreased in frequency.
"When I did have a seizure, my seizures were different, and my friends noticed that.
My behaviour was a lot calmer," she said.
After she has a seizure, she is known to grab her cellphone and bag, and run. This is called a postictal state, and is the altered state of consciousness after an epileptic seizure.
"I've been known to do things like close all the curtains and go to bed. If I'm out and about I quite often grab my bag, I don't recognise anyone, and I start running. It's like I'm trying to get home," she says.
One of the first things the woman and those around her noticed after taking CBD, was her drop in anxiety.
"The confidence level went up, the anxiety levels went down," she said.
At the time of talking, she has not had a seizure in a month, which she puts down to CBD.
She has been supported in her journey of CBD by Elizabeth Plant, the chief medical officer at Eqalis Pharmaceuticals.
Eqalis is a medical cannabis company based in Tauranga, and was one of the first companies to receive their commercial licence following the regulations that were established under the Medical Cannabis Scheme in April.
Plant is dedicated to helping other Kiwis who need quality medical cannabis at an affordable price.
She is concerned about Kiwis who think they are going to get medical cannabis at a cheaper price by voting "yes" at the upcoming cannabis referendum.
"People, like [the woman] who need medical cannabis cannot get that from growing their own plants, they cannot get the right formula. THC and CBD combined are not good for her condition," Plant says.
Under the new regulations brought in by the Medical Cannabis Scheme, a GP is able to prescribe CBD, but this comes with a hefty price tag of at least $250. If a medical condition qualifies for a medicine that also includes THC, this can set a person back $700.
Plant says the best way forward to reduce this price but also create quality medicine, is to let the medical industry establish itself.
"We'd rather see medical cannabis given the next three to five years to properly establish so we can get quality products in the market, and give people access to much cheaper medicine that they currently do," she says.
"We are not against the legalisation of cannabis in the long run, but we think that timing is wrong."
You can read more about the cannabis referendum here.