Mother slams minister after airport officials seize cannabis oil used to treat son's epilepsy

12-year-old Billy Caldwell suffers from a rare condition a result of which he suffers from almost 100 seizures a day without the cannabis oil treatment

                            Mother slams minister after airport officials seize cannabis oil used to treat son's epilepsy
(Source:Getty Images)

A mother, who used to use oil extracted from the cannabis plant to treat her young son's severe case of epilepsy, has said that the oil was confiscated at the Heathrow Airport in London. She said, after the incident, that the British Home Office minister has just signed a "death warrant" for her son.

Charlotte Caldwell, the mother in question, went to Toronto with her 12-year-old son Billy and came back with a six-month supply of cannabis oil. She uses this to treat her boy who has up to 100 seizures in a day. Unfortunately, border officials at Heathrow seized the entire shipment on June 11.

The family is from Castledergin Co Tyrone, Ireland. Caldwell has come forward and accused Nick Hurd, the Home Office Minister, of "likely signing [her] son's death warrant" before she went to London to meet him. She told the reporters at a press conference: "It's Billy's anti-epileptic medication that Nick Hurd has taken away, it's not some sort of joint full of recreational cannabis".

"I will just go back to Canada and get more and I will bring it back again because my son has a right to have his anti-epileptic medication in his country, in his own home. Let me tell you something now: we will not stop, we are not going to stop, we are not going to give up, we have love, hope, faith for our kids and we are going to continue."

Caldwell also said that her son was due for his daily dose that at 3:30 pm and then proceeded to warn everyone present about how dangerous it is for him to miss his first treatment in about 19 months. She said: "The reason they don't do it is that it can cause really bad side-effects — they wean them down slowly. So what Nick Hurd has just done is most likely signed my son's death warrant."

50-year-old Caldwell said that she was "absolutely devastated" that her son's supply of the oil was confiscated even after they had declared it to the border officials upon landing. The mother said that one of the officials had tears in their eyes as the supply was being seized.

She said: "They are parents themselves and they were very conflicted about removing the medication from me; in fact. one of them had tears in their eyes when he was doing it. They did not want to do it."

The Home Office only said that it is "sympathetic to the difficult and rare" situation that Billy and his parents are going through. They did not, however, apologize for what they did and they stood by the decision to seize the oil. 

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: "Whilst we recognise that people with debilitating illnesses are looking to alleviate their symptoms, Border Force has a duty to stop banned substances from entering the UK. Ms Caldwell has therefore had cannabis oil seized this morning at Heathrow Airport upon landing from Canada."

"The policing minister met Ms Caldwell and advised her that despite these extremely difficult circumstances, it is unlawful to possess Schedule 1 drugs such as those seized at the border this morning without a licence. The minister urged the family to explore licensing options with the Department of Health Northern Ireland."

Caldwell said that her son's seizures have reduced at a shocking rate since he started taking the cannabis oil. She also said in the press conference that she is going to keep fighting for her son and his right to take the oil to treat his epilepsy. She said: "I take the view that I'd rather have my son illegally alive than legally dead. I will just go back to Canada and get more and I will bring it back again because my son has a right to have his anti-epileptic medication in his country, in his own home."

The 12-year-old started taking a regular treatment using the oil in 2016 while in the United States where the marijuana that is being sold for medicinal purposes is legal. Billy was also the first person in the whole of the UK who got a prescription for the oil after Brendan O'Hare, his local GP, started writing the prescriptions for him. O'Hare was already called for a meeting with the Home Office and he was told to stop writing these prescriptions. 

Cannabinoids come in two different types: Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both of these compounds are found naturally in the resin that is produced by the marijuana plant. While THC is the compound that is the main ingredient in making a person feel "high", CBD oil, even though it comes from the same plant, does not have the psychoactive ingredient that makes someone feel "stoned".

Even though the benefits of CBD as a natural alternative has been more or less proven, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) still believed that products using CBD are medicines. This would be a good thing but unfortunately, CBD oil has not been licensed as of yet. The oil can be prescibed by GPs to their patients but they can only do so under very special circumstances. The oil which has THC, and not CBD, is illegal according to the misuse of drugs legislation.

This isn't the first time this is happening in the UK. In March 2018, six-year-old Alfie Dingley presented a petition to 10 Downing Street asking that he be granted a special license to be able to use medical cannabis to treat his epilepsy. He has a rare form of the illness, very similar to Billy's condition, that can cause about 150 seizures a month. His parents had fought, just like Charlotte Caldwell, for the government to let their son use cannabis oil to help alleviate some of the symptoms that come along with the condition.

6-year-old Alfie Dingley with his parents in London (Getty Images)

Ministers said early in March that they were "exploring every option" after they met the family to discuss what they could do. The child and his mother took the petition, which was signed by over 37,000 people, to the government for them to do something about the law.

According to Alfie's family, thousands of the young boy's supporters had reached out to the local MPs and pleaded with them to meet the family. The oil is available in the Netherlands to be used for medical purpose.

The family had gone to the Netherlands before to be able to get Alfie his cannabis oil treatment and they have said that the results were "dramatic". According to Alfie's parents, the seizures had gone down to only one a month and that too it was not as extreme as his seizures before.

Hannah Deacon, Alfie's mother, told the BBC in an interview: "This isn't a time for bureaucracy — this is a time for compassion. I don't want to break the law by going to Holland and bringing his medical cannabis into the UK illegally. And why should I have to do that?"