Given just weeks to live, North-East nurse Sandra Smith is devoting the rest of her life to calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis. In a bid to highlight the issue and demand change, she is sharing her story with Joanna Morris for the first time

AS a palliative care nurse, Sandra Smith spent decades watching patients fade away, bodies wracked by cancer and gruelling chemotherapy sessions.

With a terminal diagnosis of her own, the stoic 49-year-old mother was determined not to die that way.

Mostly bedridden and wheelchair bound, she found herself fading fast as brain, liver and lung cancer took hold, aggressively robbing her of the life she knew.

Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a cocktail of prescription drugs left Mrs Smith a shadow of her former self, resigned to her fate.

“It was horrendous to go through chemo, I had all the side effects, sickness, diarrhoea, constipation, exhaustion.

“My life stopped and I lived in hospital, lost friends as well as my independence and my confidence.

“The pain was physical, emotional and mental – I was in bed most of the time or in a wheelchair.

“I’m still young and I felt cheated.”

Mrs Smith now believes she will die pain-free with dignity and strength, leaving behind memories of day-trips to Whitby and a beaming smile worn to the end.

It’s a conviction that comes with a daily dose of cannabis oil, the substance she credits with making her as close to well again as she may ever be.

“I’m in no pain at all, I don’t take prescription drugs, I sleep at night and it helps with inflammation.

“I know if I stopped taking it, I’d be in hospital in days and at this stage, I should be in bed by now, waiting to die.

“I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Once avidly opposed to its use, Mrs Smith now swallows half a gram daily and has turned her back on a cocktail of prescription drugs.

Her decision is one still shrouded in stigma and one that could yet see her hauled before the courts.

It was not an easy one to make for a law-abiding former bank nurse and has plunged her into an “alien world”.

“I’d never done drugs before. As a child, I was brought up to believe it was wrong and I had no involvement with drugs at all.

“When my husband first suggested cannabis oil, I was horrified.

“But they told me there was no way I’d see the end of the year and there was nothing to lose.

“The NHS has offered me three more rounds of chemo and if the cancer doesn’t get me, the chemo will.”

The first dose made her feel slightly drunk and gave her the best night’s sleep she’d had since her diagnosis.

Months later, she is using it daily and feels no ill-effects but has experienced vast improvements in her health.

She is now devoting the rest of her life to campaigning for legalisation, urging the UK government to listen to users and to stop criminalising otherwise law-abiding people.

“I have no criminal record and respect the law in every other way.

“It’s disgusting I have to do something illegal to get pain relief that works.

“I’m not knocking traditional medicine but it comes down to personal choice and it’s our human right not to suffer.”

Respectable and professional in every way, Mrs Smith and her husband were forced to get their first plants from a dealer, via a friend.

Now self-sufficient, they work within a network of medicinal users, sharing and supporting each other throughout the North-East.

Their choice means they are no longer forced – like so many users are – to consort with shady dealers operating on the black market.

However, it also means that they could be classed as drug dealers in their own right.

“I was so paranoid at first, it was horrible,” Mrs Smith says “I thought the neighbours could smell it and the police would find out.

“Now, I’d love my day in court, love to see the police try to take my medicine – I’ll tell them about the people like me out there suffering and the children left suffering that could be helped with cannabis.

“I will never understand why the government allows this to happen and I will fight to the end for cannabis to be decriminalised for all.”

Like many campaigners, she believes decriminalisation would destroy the black market, raise revenue and allow users to medicate without fear of prosecution.

“Decriminalising it would take it out of the hands of dealers and allow the government to tax it.

“It will keep people safer, they can become self-sufficient, everyone will know what they’re getting and it would genuinely help people like me.”

During our interview, Mrs Smith fields calls from others struggling with chronic pain, with cancer and a variety of other conditions.

In between offering them advice and support, she shakes her head at their plight, at her plight.

“The government has to realise it’s our human right to be pain-free and comfortable.

“They need to listen to us.”