IT WAS hard enough to deal with all the problems that multiple sclerosis has brought me during the past 10 years, but it became much more difficult when I realised I had to cope with the unpleasant side-effects of my medication as well.

I was being prescribed a whole range of medicines. There were pills to stop me feeling sick. These made me clumsy and drowsy. There were pills to relieve bladder spasms but they made me feel sick and gave me blurred vision. There were pills to help me sleep but they made me anxious and were habit-forming.

Then, about 18 months ago, a friend showed me an American article about the growing number of people with MS who had found safe and effective relief from their symptoms by taking cannabis. I could not see what I had to lose, so I decided to see if it would work for me, too.

I am a middle-aged, suburban housewife living in the north of England and I have two young children. I am not remotely involved in the 'drug scene'. It took me some time, difficulty and expense, therefore, to lay my hands on this illegal substance. When I had got it, I had no idea how to find out how much I should take and when. The doctors who see me were all interested and supportive but they didn't know much about it either, so I had to work everything out for myself.

For about a year now, I have been regularly taking a small amount of cannabis resin - less than the size of half a pea - late at night. I used to smoke it with dried herbs (not tobacco), but I worried that my children might see me smoking, so now I eat it. After a short time my body completely relaxes, which relieves my tension and spasms. During the day I have to use a catheter whenever I want to empty my bladder and, most notably, cannabis relieves the discomfort and difficulty I have controlling it. It has also stopped the nausea that kept me awake at night.

It is hard to regulate the dose. The quality varies, and, I suppose, like alcohol, the same amount seems to have different effects on different occasions.

Over the months I found I was able to reduce the doses of my medication. Now I am not taking anything, a state of affairs I hope will continue.

I don't often take enough to 'get high'. When I do, I'm sure the feeling of calm and euphoria does my spirits a lot of good, too. Like many people who are ill, I find it only too easy to become introspective and self-pitying. Cannabis helps me to put a check on this, which is great for the people around me, as well as for me.

It is notoriously difficult to tell how effective medicines are in controlling MS, because the condition is so variable and people improve spontaneously. But the effects of cannabis are not hard for me to see. If I'm sick and uncoordinated and I take some cannabis, and then I get relief, I don't need a man in a white coat to interpret it all for me.

When I started using cannabis, I didn't know anyone else who used it therapeutically. It is neither easy nor pleasant for me to obtain supplies, but I am happy to carry on, as it does me so much good. By diplomatic questioning, I have come across others with MS who use it successfully.

I don't like breaking the law. I would far rather go to the chemist, so I am beginning to ask why I cannot get legal access to a safe drug that should be cheap, and which really helps me. I am even more angry that others are not able to find out if cannabis can be as beneficial to them as it has been to me.

Clare Hodges is a pseudonym.