Parliamentary Committee report on medical cannabis

On May 15th the much awaited NSW upper house report was released. The report was unanimous in finding that there is a large pain and suffering burden on the population, not adequately addressed by current therapeutic agents.

However, due to vague concerns over long term use, the report recommends access to legal medical cannabis only for people with terminal illnesses or AIDS. These people will have legal indemnity from prosecution for the possession of 15gm of herbal cannabis.

A nominated carer will also be covered but only for 15gm total. To gain this concession the patient and carer must provide photo ID to the police station. There is no provision for cultivation or any form of legal supply.

If the intention of the parliamentary committee was to demonstrate their commitment, as dedicated public servants and caring citizens, to best practice in social policy, then they have failed very badly in that endeavour. For a medical cannabis patient with a serious illness 15gm would last about five days, or less if it is of inferior quality.

Therefore, the patient or their carer would have to interact with the criminal underworld more than weekly, to obtain an exorbitantly expensive product of questionable quality. It would make far more sense for the patient to have access to at least 300gm, to assure constant supply of reasonable quality, as well as substantial unit price reduction. Better still, if this were supplied by a registered grower with expertise in the production of medical grade, as opposed to black market cannabis.

By recognising the efficacy of and great need for medical cannabis, but creating no legal supply, the committee has handed criminals the right to enrich themselves at the expense of the sick and dying. At the glacial pace of the NSW government, these recommendations will not be responded to, let alone acted upon, until the end of the year.

After having found that the medical use of cannabis is capable of relieving currently unrelieved pain and suffering, delaying action to supply such cannabis amounts to torture of a most vulnerable section of the community.

The committee gave unreserved support for the development of pharmaceutical products based on cannabis, but noted that this could be many years away. This is cold comfort for people currently afflicted.

GW Pharmaceuticals have produced a cannabis aerosol spray, but its licensing is restricted and its cost prohibitive. Many patients and their carers feel that after decades of irrational opposition to cannabis medicines the pharmaceutical companies should not be handed a carte blanche to create inflated profits at their expense.

The committee entirely failed to view Australia’s backward position in the context of advances in cannabis policy elsewhere. Under new legislation around the world, hundreds of millions of people now have access to safe, effective, affordable medicine as herbal or infused products, but none currently in Australia.

The greatest failing of the committee was to restrict the scope of the medical uses of cannabis to terminal illness. Evidence was given of Crohn’s disease sufferers, for years resistant to many treatments, finding relief within days of starting cannabis therapy.

Mr Tony Bower outlined his use of tincture for the control of intractable epilepsy in Dravet’s syndrome, where the medicine is literally life saving, but these patients are to be denied benefit under the committee’s findings, with no credible explanation from the parliamentarians who are supposed to represent their interests.

Finally, despite a direct request, the committee entirely failed to take up the unique issue of cannabidiol (CBD). This is a non-psychotropic cannabinoid which blocks the psychotropic effects of THC, while exhibiting superior medical qualities as a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-neoplastic agent. CBD is amongst the least toxic of pharmaceutically active agents with an impeccable safety record.

It has been demonstrated to control psychotic episodes as effectively as modern agents, but is free of the problematic side effects. Despite the disappointment felt over this current betrayal medical cannabis patients and their activist carers will continue their efforts to rationalise policy to make safe, effective medicines available to all those in need.

Cannabis flower

Medical Cannabis – cruel hoax or twenty-first century miracle?

It is now almost eighty years since the introduction of the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act. With the partial relaxing of the prohibition in recent years, research has produced some remarkable findings. For the relief of spasm and pain cannabis has shown a safe and reliable effect, but it is in the area of cancer medicine that cannabis shines.

Medical authorities around the world conducted surveys of cannabis smokers, expecting to find smoking cannabis caused cancer in an analogous manner to tobacco use. To their surprise cannabis users had reduced rates of cancer. Initially, these findings were suppressed but medical scientists then demonstrated the mechanism by which the cannabinoids exert this effect, through the process of apoptosis.

Apoptosis is a unique physiological form of cell death, in which the affected cell actively extrudes its intracellular fluid, with the remnants engulfed by immune cells. It is a precisely targeted process unlike necrosis, which affects all adjacent tissue, causing inflammation.

Further, the cannabinoids induce tumour specific apoptosis across a wide range of tumour types. This can be convincingly demonstrated in tissue culture and has been confirmed in animal models, both in tumour susceptible animals and with tumour implants in normal animals. Additionally, there have been numerous anecdotal reports of people being healed of extensive cancer, using concentrated hemp oil. Rick Simpson has done much to publicise this.

The senate inquiry into the medical uses of cannabis is due to report on 14th May. During testimony there I described a breast cancer sufferer, having her third relapse with tumour invading the nerves of her arm, causing paralysis and disabling neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain results from injury to nerves and responds poorly to opioid drugs.

Cannabis has long been recognised as excellent for this type of pain so Rick Simpson oil was provided. At that time I was aware of the internet reports of cures, but they seemed too good to be true. The patient’s response was dramatic and she remains well a year later. Similar cases are being reported and documented.

Most cannabis used to prepare hemp oil has been bred to maximise THC and minimise cannabidiol (CBD), as CBD inhibits the psychotropic effect of THC. However, CBD offers some unique advantages in cancer medicine.

THC and CBD are equally potent in inducing apoptosis, but whereas 50mg of THC is a substantial dose with significant inebriation, CBD can be given at gram doses without noticeable effect on the patient, but with an accelerated anti-tumour effect.

Licensed hemp crops could be a ready source of medicinal CBD.

CBD is not illegal by itself and is not even listed in the poisons schedule. However, as the hemp crops have trace amounts of THC, this will appear in the extract, which will then be deemed to be a prohibited drug, despite having absolutely no abuse potential and exceptional medical value.

The NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner has been presented with a formal request to exempt CBD rich hemp oil from prohibition, to facilitate pilot studies and then larger scale testing.

My strong position is that hemp extracts should be treated as herbal products, subject to quality control, but not impacted by the allopathic drug evaluation system. The incidence of cancer is generally increasing, as the complex contamination of soil, water and air increases.

As Fukushima continues to spew plumes of radiation, contaminating the northern Pacific and beyond, this cancer epidemic will only get worse. This article is a plea for your support. CBD could be a greater game changer in medicine than penicillin was. Current chemotherapeutic drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars a month and generally confer little survival advantage and major toxicity.

CBD therapy can save countless billions of public money and more importantly immeasurable pain, suffering and loss of life. I urge you to contact Minister Skinner’s office and express support for this amendment. The life you save may be your own or your family and friends.

Dr Andrew Katelaris

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