Elizabeth Ivol had to use two walking sticks to climb the stairs to the Kirkwall Sheriff Court in Orkney last week. The 50-year-old MS sufferer was there to face two charges: growing 27 cannabis plants and possessing an illegal drug. Looking frail and solemn, she stood in the dock as Sheriff Colin Scott Mackenzie told her she could face six months in jail, a pounds 5,000 fine, or both.

Mrs Ivol of Hertson, South Ronaldsay, who was diagnosed with MS seven years ago but began to use cannabis only in the past four months, admitted the offences. The Sheriff told her he had "considerable sympathy" for the circumstances in which she found herself. He had decided against a custodial penalty and admonished her instead.

Mrs Ivol said she felt enormously relieved after the verdict was passed. "I felt like a criminal all the time I was in there," she said.

"Painkillers just weren't working. I knew I was breaking the law but it was a risk I had to take because there was nothing else left for me.

"I had seriously wondered about whether I could carry on living. Then when I started smoking a joint every five days, I'd find all the pain had gone within an hour. I suddenly found I could feel my toes for the first time in three years.

"It has given me a bit of independence. I can look after myself and my dogs, but without cannabis they'd probably have to put me in a home."

After the hearing, David Macauley of Scotland Against Drugs (SAD) said: "The message that cannabis is somehow good for you could follow from this, and it would not be MS sufferers who used it, it would be other people who used it as an excuse. You can not short-circuit the law."