Billy’s story: How one young boy from Ireland is removing the stigma surrounding medical cannabis

  • Billy Caldwell, a young boy from Ireland, made history earlier this year by becoming the first person to be prescribed cannabis oil on the NHS.
  • The company which made the oil, 710 Pharmaceuticals MNE, then decided to name their CBD oil “Billy’s Bud.”

The story of a young, 11-year-old Irish lad’s battle with severe epilepsy has captured the imagination of the nation, bringing the issue of medical cannabis to the national attention. His mother, Charlotte, told MMJ she “couldn’t be happier,” of what he has achieved in such a short time, under such difficult circumstances.

The family of two from Castlederg, a small town bordering both Ireland and Northern Ireland, have battled impossible odds to be where they are today: 256 days seizure free and launching a new campaign to help lower income families get access to medical marijuana.

Billy suffers from both intractable epilepsy, meaning he cannot be treated with traditional pharmaceutical medication or with a change in diet like some epileptics, coupled with severe autism. Facing up to a thousand seizures a week, the young Northern Irish lad’s mother, Charlotte, ran out of traditional options to help her suffering child. That’s where medical cannabis came in.

Charlotte and Billy Cadwell smileAfter travelling to America to see a specialist consultant, Charlotte was referred to a medical marijuana specialist, completely changing her and Billy’s life. Charlotte told us how the family first came to try medical cannabis:

“We didn’t actively set out to search for cannabis oil, I just wanted to stop the seizures, which had become uncontrollable. Billy was suffering from up to 100 seizures a day at this point.

“We couldn’t access any treatment in the UK, so I took Billy to LA where a specialist paediatric doctor referred him to a medical cannabis doctor. That was actually our first contact with cannabis.”

Asked whether she was doubtful about the recommendation to try a drug which the British Government views as having ‘no medicinal value,’ Charlotte explained:

“I wasn’t sceptical, no. But when you have to watch your child suffer that amount of seizures a day, and when someone tells you they have a solution, you have to at least try it!”

Billy’s epilepsy immediately began to improve. The life-threatening seizures decreased in number.

“It was truly amazing, and he is continuing to fight the condition, with the help of cannabis,” Charlotte told, us, explaining how medical cannabis has helped her son.

“There’s been so many improvements. He’s now able to make eye contact, retain his balance, he’s walking better, getting up and down stairs, but most importantly, he’s seizure free! It’s been 256 days since his last one!

“I was recently able to buy Billy normal shoes for the first time, instead of his specialist boots. It’s the small things, which you may take for granted, which are huge milestones for us.

Charlotte Cadwell on ITV's This Morning
Charlotte appearing on ITV’s This Morning


Unfortunately, staying in America, away from your family and friends takes its toll, both financially and emotionally. The family was forced back to Ireland:

“We were completely on our own, away from our family. We were in LA for 8 months on the medical cannabis programme; micro-dosing, low doses of cannabis throughout the day, But the cost of staying in LA was too much, so had to find a way home.”

When one door closes, another opens. Being forced to return to Ireland, in turn, forced Charlotte to find a doctor in Ireland who would help, paving the way for history to be made. After contacting their local GP, Dr Brendan O’Hare, Billy became the first person to be prescribed CBD oil on the NHS.

The cannabis oil which Billy is prescribed, via the NHS, contains no THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid which is still banned within the British Isles, with a concentration of isolated CBD, a legal cannabinoid which has already proven to have several significant medicinal properties.

This single prescription may hold the potential to change the future of medical cannabis in the UK, at least in the way the British, both the public and politicians, view the drug’s potential medical value. While cannabinoid-based medications already exist in the UK and are available on the NHS, in the form of Sativex (a cannabinoid tincture used for pain, particularly for MS), a patient has never been prescribed CBD oil before.

Billy Cadwell first legal CBD oil on NHS
Charlotte Cadwell purchasing first legal CBD oil on NHS

Cannabidiol (CBD) products were legalised and reclassified for medicinal late last year, leading to a boom in the CBD market. Clearly, the alternative medicine is already proving popular, so much so, that Forbes reported that the CBD market will grow to a $2.1 billion market in consumer sales by 2020.

To attribute the blooming national success of CBD products in the UK to one young boy in Northern Ireland could be viewed as grandiose, but Billy has certainly had a significant impact on how the Irish and British view cannabis when used for medicinal purposes.

Success stories, like Billy’s and Callie and Deryn Blackwell’s, show the public just how powerful and life-changing cannabis can be as a medicine. They prove to the public that cannabis is not just the drug of “lazy stoners” (despite a recent study finding cannabis use actually improves cognitive function). Simply put, Billy and his mother are helping to remove the dangerous stigma attached to medical marijuana.

Charlotte told us how the public reaction to the family’s heroic story had received had been more than positive:

“There’s been no bad reaction at all.

“In fact, people have been stopping me in street, middle aged people, young, old, all kinds, all talking about CBD!

“Billy’s story has really changed peoples thinking on cannabis, he’s removing the stigma. He’s become an advocate for cannabis, on both sides, both recreational and medicinal.

“He’s only 11, but he’s inspired so many people already, I’m so proud of him! I’m Utterly privileged that he chose me to be his mummy! The journey has been incredible!” Billy’s journey has undoubtedly attracted national attention and affection. The wee lad from a small town in Northern Ireland, conquering 1,000s of life-threatening seizures, the first to be prescribed CBD oil on the NHS, and now the mascot of Billy’s Bud – the CBD oil available on the NHS prescription named after the heroic young boy who rose above all challenges to be where he is today.

Billy's Bud poster with Billy Cadwell

After 710 Holdings, the Irish/American pharmaceutical company which supplies Billy his oil, visited the family back in Ireland, the two paired up to launch a fantastic new campaign to get CBD products to lower income families who could benefit from it, but cannot afford the often costly price.

Charlotte explained the inspiration behind the new ‘Sponsor a Bud’ campaign:

“As a single mum of a child with special needs, I fully understand and appreciate the cost of CBD. For someone on a lower income, it can be very difficult to afford, this is especially hard when you know in your heart that a family member could benefit from CBD.

“The campaign is about helping these families who need access but simply cannot afford it; so we’re going to fund them! We can potentially help some of these families for free!

“It shouldn’t make a difference how rich or poor you are. You should be able to at least see if CBD can help your family.”

Money raised for Billy Cadwell
Billy touching hearts and changing minds

Charlotte explained that the campaign, led by 710 and herself and Billy have already helped several families across Europe:

“From one post on Facebook I received 100s of emails and messages asking for help, all seeing if they could benefit from CBD.

“We’re already helping several families; in Scotland, Wales, London, South Dublin, Belfast, Lisbon… it’s crazy the response we’ve already had! We raised nearly £800 on the first day of the campaign alone.”

Charlotte Cadwell with Billy Cadwell's cbd oil
Charlotte with some of Billy’s prescribed CBD oil

The cannabis community is one of the driving forces behind the legalisation movement; cannabis activists going out of their way to help those in need, helping people access medicinal cannabis. It’s this community ethos which Charlotte is relying on for the campaign to be a success:

“We can offer one free bottle for families to try, to see if it works. But we cannot, unfortunately, provide them with a lifetime supply.

“We’re asking local communities what they can do to help, that’s why we’re asking people to donate. We are trying to encourage people to band together to help these families continue their CBD treatments.”

The CBD oil itself is sourced from different strains of medical cannabis, not hemp, and will contain no THC, meaning it can be legally purchased in the UK and online.

Billy Cadwell cannabis epilepsy
Billy before cannabis helped end his seizures

Charlotte’s journey with Billy has solidified her belief that cannabis should be legalised within the UK. The heroic Northern Irish mother, however, views something other than the pharmaceutical industry or politicians as the largest block to the legalisation process with Britain:

“The greatest threat to legalisation is not the big pharmaceutical companies, the problem is that our medical professionals have not been trained on medical cannabis, on the science behind it, how it works, or even how to dose it.

“That is the key to this. If they [medical professionals] knew, if they knew just how life-changing cannabis can be…

“We need to train our doctors, we do not need a change in the law, just doctors and patients working together can make the change.

“710 Holdings is trying to get some of our doctors to visit Las Vegas to receive training on a medicinal cannabis course.”

“The only way this will work is if we discuss it openly and honestly. More people are using cannabis and CBD, more doctors are beginning to see results.

“I truly believe there will be more and more doctors coming forward in the near future.”

Charlotte left us with this powerful testament to why cannabis and CBD is so important to her and Billy:

“To everyone in Ireland and the UK, CBD has given me my right back as a mummy to hope; most importantly it’s given my little boy his right to life.”

Billy’s journey can be followed via his official Facebook page, and you can donate to the fantastic cause via their official Just Giving page.