I’ve introduced a bill which would allow fines to be waived for the personal cultivation and use of marijuana for people suffering designated medical conditions. This would be on the proviso that a medical practitioner has signed a palliative cannabis certificate, saying that the person is suffering from a specified illness or disease, the symptoms of which might be palliated by the smoking or consumption of cannabis or cannabis resin.
Given that in South Australia cannabis is a controlled substance and is illegal under normal circumstances, under this legislation the medical practitioner is given protection.
Cannabis is a drug that has been referred to in literature in all cultures. It was being used in China as a herbal remedy 5,000 years ago; in the US the 1896 edition of the Pharmacopeia had 20 pages devoted to its uses; and until 1934 cannabis was widely used in pharmaceutical preparations in the US. Queen Victoria is said to have used it to relieve period pain.
It is because of individual’s different responses to drugs that cannabis should be part of our palliative armoury. There are some people with conditions that cannot be alleviated with the normal range of chemically-synthesised drugs. Some of these conditions include multiple sclerosis, and up to 30 per cent of people in Europe who suffer with multiple sclerosis use cannabis to alleviate their symptoms. A British study showed that the use of cannabis by MS sufferers resulted in improvements in walking speed, reduction in muscle spasms, pain relief, and better sleep.
People who have nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, as well as people with body wasting because of AIDS, find that cannabis suppresses the nausea and vomiting. Other conditions that can be assisted are glaucoma, depression, bursitis, control of seizures, and neuropathic pain associated with spinal cord injuries.
One of the short-term effects of THC in cannabis is to expand the airways in the lungs, helping people who have asthma; however, cannabis users may develop tolerance to this effect.
Like all drugs, there is a potential for side-effects, and the use of cannabis for medical conditions, just as with other drugs, needs to be tightly controlled.
Each year in Australia there are approximately 19,000 deaths from the use of tobacco, 2,000 from alcohol and 1,000 for all other illicit drugs combined. Paracetamol kills 400 people per year, and even aspirin causes more deaths than cannabis. In fact, ABS figures do not show cannabis as causing any deaths.
There is not anywhere in the literature a causal link between cannabis and psychosis. Certainly, there is evidence that shows that some people who are psychotic have a tendency to self-medicate with cannabis and, of course, that is interesting in itself because there is an ingredient in cannabis called CBD that inhibits psychotic symptoms among schizophrenics. It may be, in fact, that they have cottoned on to that and are using it to effectively alleviate some of their symptoms.
Dr Syril D'Souza and Dr Asif Malik from Yale University published an article on the website psychiatrictimes.com they say:
If cannabis causes psychosis in and of itself then one would expect that any increase in the rates of cannabis use would be associated with increased rates of psychosis. However, in some areas where cannabis use has clearly increased, e.g., Australia, there has not been a commensurate increase in the rate of psychotic disorders. Further, one might also expect that, if the age of initiation of cannabis use decreases, there should also be a decrease in the age of onset of psychotic disorders. We are unaware of such evidence.
The AMA, to whom I provided a copy of the draft bill, has rejected the bill because of safety concerns, but what I find interesting about that is that there do not appear to be the same concerns in relation to prescribing drugs that come from chemical companies. Some drugs our medical practitioners already legally prescribe - for instance, there is Strattera for ADHD have side-effects that include suicidal thoughts, weight loss, chest pain and swollen testicles: but doctors still prescribe it.
Extract from SA Legislative Council Hansard: CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES (PALLIATIVE USE OF CANNABIS) AMENDMENT BILL speech made on July 23, 2008. The full version is online at www.sa.democrats.org.au.