ELIZABETH Brice (also known as Clare Hodges), the tenacious, eloquent and courageous campaigner for cannabis therapeutics, has died at her home in Leeds, aged 54.
Diagnosed with MS at the age of 26, Liz went on to write an article in The Spectator some years later discussing how the condition had by then stopped her from driving because of poor vision, nausea and dizziness.
She had read in a US health journal that some American doctors advocated the prescription of marijuana to MS patients to relieve some symptoms. If they could prescribe morphine then why not marijuana?
“Inspired by this, I thought I’d give it a go,” she said. But how was a 35-year-old middle-class housewife to find this illegal substance which might alleviate her symptoms? Find it she did, and quickly realised that smoking the drug in herbal cigarettes brought relief “unlike legal medications which have unpleasant side-effects on me”.
That article effectively started the campaign for the medicalisation of cannabis. At the time Liz wrote it (using the pseudonym Clare Hodges, so as not to embarrass her young sons) she feared she might be prosecuted. Today, thanks to the campaign she started in the UK, the legal drug Sativex is available for patients with MS and cancer in European countries and North America.
Liz Brice was born in Manchester. She read Classics at Somerville College, Oxford, and soon afterwards joined Yorkshire Television in Leeds, where she worked on the popular medical series Where There’s Life... with Miriam Stoppard.
By the age of 25 she was a producer, filming in Japan, China, Bangladesh, Israel and the US. The following year, 1983, she underwent tests that diagnosed MS. For Liz MS was not just a disease but a monumental challenge.
“Disabled people have exactly the same reasons for wanting children as anyone else,” she said.
So Liz had a son against the word of her doctor, and when she told him she intended to have another he threw his hands up in horror.
A few years later a further challenge was cannabis, and the fact that medical research into its therapeutic use was being blocked because of the drug’s illegal classification. She wrote articles for the broadsheet press and started the campaigning group Acta Pacta Benefacta. Her extensive correspondence with other MS sufferers is now available in the Wellcome Trust Medical Library as part of the history of cannabis research.
Liz appeared frequently in TV discussions on the cannabis issue and addressed organisations as disparate as the European Parliament and the the Townswomen’s Guild annual conference in the Royal Albert Hall.
Crucially, she received support from Great Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell and several academics in discussions with the Home Office about the wisdom of legalising cannabis research.
Eventually the campaign prevailed and one scientist was given permission to grow cannabis secretly for research purposes. Out of his work the drug Sativex was developed for use on prescription, and MS sufferers no longer had to take it illegally.
Liz Brice started a campaign and saw it through to a successful conclusion that would help thousands of suffering people.
None of this had much to do with Liz Brice’s passion for Classics, which continued unabated throughout her life. Every room in her home had classical inscriptions written on the walls, including “utere sorte tua” – make the most of your chances. She certainly did that.
Through her friendship with the late Gillian Baverstock, daughter of Enid Blyton, Liz and her father William were allowed to write Nuticulus Satyrique, a Latin translation of Noddy’s adventures, attracting the tabloid headline “Noddy is verging on the the Nuticulus”. She also helped Tom Stoppard with the classical allusions in his play Arcadia and was delighted when the writer honoured her family name with a character called Colonel William Brice.
Liz Brice’s resistance to her disease continued, although the MS became progressively more powerful and dangerous. In the last two years of her life she studied part-time for a degree in Religious Studies at Leeds University.
She was greatly loved by her husband Duncan, sons Charlie and George, the rest of the family, her many friends and the carers who looked after for the last five years.