A cancer patient who was given just weeks to live claims the tumours in her brain are now shrinking – after taking both legal and illegal forms of cannabis.
Gemma Elsworth, from Hirwaun , near Aberdare , went blind, lost movement in her left side, and even struggled to swallow when the tumours grew larger.
But now she claims as a result of taking cannabis-derived CBD oil and crushed-up forms of the plant, in conjunction with chemotherapy, that the tumours have shrunk in size by half.
Studies suggest cannabis compounds may kill certain malignant cells in the lab but experts warn there is no definitive proof yet of its effects on cancer in humans.
“The CBD oil turned things around for me,” said Gemma.
“In December 2017 they said nothing would cure me as the tumours were so advanced and chemotherapy would only give me a few weeks or months.
“I came home in January and have regained some use of my left side and can do much more than I could eight weeks ago.
“I’ve started walking with a stick and my eyesight is coming back after three years.
“If it wasn’t for the CBD oil I don’t think I’d be here now.”
Gemma was just 10 months old when her parents noticed bruising to her eye which turned out to be cancerous.
She was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a very rare form of the disease that attacks the soft tissue of the body, and she later needed her right eye removed.
She also needed facial reconstruction when the disease spread to her nose and jaw.
Looking back to when she first noticed problems with Gemma’s eye, her mum Kay Elsworth said: “She was still happy and eating but it got to the point where you could see the tumour growing on her face.
“Then one day her cot was full of watery blood. We just knew something urgent needed to be done.”
When doctors told the family little Gemma had the aggressive brain cancer and gave her just six months to live Kay said she went into a state of denial.
“I didn’t believe it. I’d never heard of children having cancer in those days. We just thought it was an older person’s disease.”
Gemma then started having regular chemotherapy at University Hospital Llandough and six weeks of radiotherapy.
She also had regular lumbar punctures into her spine when the cancer threatened to spread to her brain.
“She couldn’t tolerate the chemotherapy as she was still so young,” former accountant Kay added.
“She just became more and more anaemic and at one point went into a respiratory arrest where she just stopped breathing.”
Following the chemotherapy and radiotherapy her right eye and the surrounding tissue had to be cut away in order to save her life.
However the cancer had spread to her nose and jaw, which meant that throughout her childhood and teenage years she had to go through more surgery including facial reconstruction.
Throughout her time in school Gemma was allegedly tormented by bullies for the way she looked – and would even get stones thrown at her house.
“People used to call her ‘Gemma One Eye’ and all sorts of names. She was a very trusting person and socially naive so people have taken advantage of her in the past,” said Kay.
Despite her problems Gemma left home at 18 years old, passed her driving test, and managed to live independently.
But her health began to deteriorate rapidly around three years ago when she developed epilepsy, suffered several falls, and lost her sight in her left eye.
“She experienced a lot of hallucinations. She was imagining people and animals around her feet. She felt like she was being haunted,” added Kay.
“It must have been horrible for her but we later realised the hallucinations and epilepsy were possible signs of a brain tumour.
“In November last year she was taken to A&E at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr after falling and while she was there she lost the use of her left side. We thought she’d suffered a stroke.”
Following scans which were sent to specialists at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff three large tumours were spotted in her brain, along with a cluster of smaller tumours on her brain stem.
“We were told the tumours were inoperable and they gave her weeks, possibly a couple of months, to live,” Kay added.
“I then just began scrambling around on the internet to find some way of helping her. At this point she couldn’t even swallow.
“Before she was even diagnosed with cancer again I’d seen a few clips on YouTube about the benefits of CBD oil.
“I managed to get some from MediPen in Cardiff . I put three or four drops under her tongue with meals and within days she was in bed feeding herself and had built up the strength to swallow again.”
Because both Gemma and Kay were unable to afford to buy the CBD oil regularly they soon turned to illegal street sellers.
Kay said: “I would ground up the dry leaves and put a spoonful with her meals. She just improved and improved and improved.”
Now, in a combination with chemotherapy, the family claim the three tumours in Gemma’s brain have shrunk by half – and the cluster in her brain stem have vanished.
“They’ve now said she has a year or two to live instead of a few weeks,” Kay added.
“Obviously the doctors cannot condone giving her cannabis but they’ve said to continue what we’re doing as it seems to be working.”
More than 50 guests packed into Aberdare RFC’s clubhouse earlier this month to mark Gemma’s 35th birthday.
Kay added: “Gemma sang Get the Party Started by Pink and everyone had fabulous night.”
Both Kay and Gemma have now called for cannabis to be legalised so it can be properly regulated and so people like her don’t feel like criminals trying to get hold of it.
Gemma, who set up a charity called Let’s Face It to help others with facial disfigurements, added: “They need to decriminalise all cannabis so that more research can be done on cures for many diseases.
“There are hundreds of people who have been saved by this plant which is a medicinal herb, not a dangerous drug like other pharmaceutical medicines.
“I believe it saved my life and should be available to save others.”
A spokesman for MediPen, which the family say supplied the legal form of CBD oil, said: “As the UK’s leading consumer cannabinoid biotechnology company we’ve been on a mission over the last three years to break down the negative connotations surrounding cannabis and raise awareness surrounding the positive attributes of the plant.
“We feel this has been achieved with considerable success as we’ve created an industry in which legal non-psychoactive cannabinoid based products have flourished and will continue to grow exponentially.”