Australia may soon join the likes of the US, Israel and several European countries in their support of controlled medical cannabis legislation.
Last month the New South Wales government introduced the Drug Legislation Amendment (Cannabis for Medical Purposes) Bill 2014 into parliament. The Bill, if successful, would give registered patients access to medical cannabis in the form of leaf, oil or resin as well as allow registered carers to assist in administering the treatment. Registered patients and carers would also be legally permitted to cultivate a limited number of plants and manufacture or produce cannabis for use by the patient.
Several Australian state and federal MPs have also publicly voiced their support for national clinical trials of medical cannabis, following recent legislation in parts of the US. Victorian ALP Senator Jacinta Collins said the prominence this issue is being given by multiple state governments illustrates the growing level of support for the legalislation for medical purposes.
“There is sufficient evidence to warrant further research into the potential of medical cannabis as an effective treatment for some medical conditions,” Senator Collins said.
“The Commonwealth has indicated its support for a national clinical trial led by the New South Wales government, this is an important step to understanding the role of medicinal cannabis and how it can be used to help seriously ill people,” she said.
Senator Collins also said that while overseas evidence is encouraging, it is important Australia conducts its own research to ensure compliance with national standards.
But Damon Adams, CEO of advocacy group unitedincompassion.com.au and cannabis user and educator, said he was dumbfounded as to why we need to have more of them [clinical trials] in Australia, when thousands have already been done overseas.
“We are wasting more time and money doing clinical trials that are only going to confirm results from overseas trials,” he said.
Mr Adams, who recently appeared on Australian television in response to the call for medical cannabis reform, said we should look at successful policies from countries like the US and analyse their strengths and weaknesses.
“Long term policy is already happening, we need to use it, rather than rely on a 77 year old prohibition model that has failed for decades,” Mr Adams said.
Summer Pain, mother of refractory epilepsy sufferer Piper, 3, said her daughter’s constant seizures and short life expectancy had lead them to consider trying medical cannabis treatments. Piper was just three months old when she first began experiencing uncontrollable life threatening seizures, however remains undiagnosed as the cause for her seizures cannot be established. At 3, Piper is still unable to sit, stand, walk, talk or feed herself and requires constant care. Ms Pain said she was angry with the current legislation after one of Piper’s specialists threatened to report her to authorities if she attempted to give medical cannabis to her daughter. An amendment in legislation in Australia could see it become legal to treat forms of childhood epilepsy with medical cannabis.
“Piper is required to take four anticonvulsants twice daily as well as an additional benzodiazepine medication which is also administered in an emergency to reduce seizure severity and clusters, however there is a limit I am able to administer as too much may cause respiratory failure,” Ms Pain said.
Piper’s neurologist, Professor Ingrid Scheffer, argues that double blind placebo controlled trials must be conducted in Australia to obtain long term side effects of medical cannabis use on childhood epilepsy sufferers. Ms Pain said she had been advised of the possible long term side effects from many of Piper’s approved prescribed medications, such as poor kidney and liver function, muscle weakness, tooth decay, reduction in brain function, withdrawal, dependency and loss of sight and that surely medical cannabis couldn’t be any worse.
“Prescribed anticonvulsant medications often leave Piper unconscious or in a vegetative state, although with a seizing child you are left to wonder what’s the alternative and without another immediate option, it’s try or die,” she said.
“Piper’s neurologist said that if clinical trials suggest in twenty years these children will perhaps develop schizophrenia, it won’t make a difference to Piper,” Ms Pain said.
When faced with the harsh reality of saving their children’s lives, the announcement of national trials and amendment to legislation may be the miracle parents, like Ms Pain, have been hoping for.
“We are constantly researching for answers, and on finding reports of medical cannabis it seems this is the answer for so many suffering children,” Ms Pain said.
On the discussion of legislation of medical cannabis, Mr Adams said he would like to see new laws introduced immediately and the stigma of criminalisation removed to enable those in need to benefit, adding “I’d like our politicians to be humans first, and politicians second.”