With so much controversy surrounding the medicinal cannabis ruling in Australia – despite being available across 29 states of the USA, Argentina, Austria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia & the Czech Republic all having some form of program in place – there has been historically a considerable lack of action when it comes to the tremendous relief medicinal cannabis offers to sufferers of debilitating diseases.
Although Australian doctors have been importing the drug on a ‘case by case’ basis for some time, historically, the amount of red tape coupled with the levels of bureaucracy needed to be jumped through to appease the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) made it basically out of reach for most medical professionals and patients to be pursued as a long-term option for the treatment of disease.
In some cases, desperate parents of young patients are being charged and dragged through the courts for simply trying to stop the suffering of their little ones. As a parent, who could blame them for looking for progressive medical solutions to help in the treatment of a variety of illnesses such as seizures from epilepsy and severe muscle spasms?
In April, South Australian advocate and medicinal cannabis producer Jenny Hallam was charged with a string of drug-related offences including possessing and manufacturing a controlled substance after she was caught supplying cannabis oil to terminally ill patients free of charge to help with their pain and suffering. Jenny admits to being undeterred by the charges and feels as though her quest is to provide alternative options for looking after the health of individuals of all ages and providing a better quality of life.
In a clinical trial in the US, medicinal cannabis oil was tested in a controlled setting of 214 people who each received Epidoxlex (Cannabidiol or CBD) over a 12-week period. Interestingly, the trial saw a decrease of 54% in the number of epileptic seizures that the trial group of regular sufferers would experience.
Further studies published in the ‘European Journal of Pain’, showed that “Cannabis use improved pain and movement in patients with Parkinson’s Disease” and that “cannabis improved motor scores and pain symptoms in PD patients, together with a dissociate effect on heat and cold pain thresholds.” So with these positive results occurring across the globe it seems peculiar that Australia has, up until very recently, been so far from an actionable solution.
These results along with the reported benefits for cancer sufferers, MS patients, people with anxiety or aggressive pain should have seen the Australian government change their stance on medicinal cannabis earlier. However, like most TGA processes, it seems time, money, research and a patient’s general wellbeing needed to be invested and sacrificed in order to bring the program to fruition in the land Down Under.
Despite Australian politics being considered counterproductive at best over the past decade, through swift bi-partisan support in 2016 the federal government passed laws to legalise medicinal cannabis for patients with chronic & painful illnesses and diseases.
So, who can get their hands on medicinal cannabis?
As a starting point, medicinal cannabis will be accessible for children with severe epilepsy, which most of us – especially the parents reading this – can see as a great start for these little suffers.
Next, only people who fit into four key categories outlined below will be eligible for the treatment:
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers with severe muscle spasms and/or pain
- Cancer and HIV/AIDS patients experiencing severe pain, nausea and vomiting
- Those who suffer from severe epileptic seizures (if not responding to conventional treatment)
- Those who experience severe chronic pain in cases where two specialist medical practitioners think medical cannabis may be more effective than other medical treatments
This small step for medicinal cannabis in Australia should be considered a breakthrough, albeit a long way from the liberal attitudes in many counties around the world, but a step in the right direction all the same.
Although the federal government officially passed the law, each state and territory will have its own set of rules and administration of the allocation & distribution to the drug – just to add an extra layer of confusion to the roll out of medicinal cannabis.
However, in a recent breakthrough, terminally ill patients can personally import medicinal cannabis oil supplies (up to three months worth) in a rare charge led by the Greens, the Australian Labour Party & the crossbench within the Australian senate.
The changes mean “patients who are currently waiting weeks and sometimes months for access to these treatments will have their wait time cut to less than a day – just like any other pain medication”.
The new laws are a step in the right direction on what many view as an archaic law, however, there will always be a need for strict regulation and penalties for non-terminally ill patients seen taking advantage of this new ruling through the exploitation of these laws and the most vulnerable people in our society.
Due to all the rules and red tape in place prior to the recent senate breakthrough, according to opposition leader Bill Shorten, only 133 patients had been able to access medicinal cannabis since Parliament passed laws legalizing medicinal cannabis last year. This new breakthrough vote, allowing the fast track access of medical cannabis, will hopefully see these shameful numbers increase.
No matter what side of politics you’re sit on – it cannot be denied that although progress has been made, for many sufferers – some of whom are young children – a comprehensive, accessible and obtainable solution needs to be reached sooner rather than later.
As a society we need to move away from political point scoring, partisan views and look at the facts – medicinal cannabis oil helps people in need. Simple.
Let’s be clear about the point that’s trying to be made here. There’s no call for legalizing everyone to sit around punching bongs, eating Twisties while watching Family Guy re-runs on the taxpayer’s dollar – it’s helping sick people to feel well again, be it only for a brief moment – isn’t that enough?
Author: Tim Brown
 Devinsky O, Marsh E, Friedman D, et al. Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial. Lancet neurology 2015 as cited from: http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/other-treatment-approaches/medical-marijuana-and-epilepsy#1
 Shohet A, Khlebtovsky A, Roizen N, Roditi Y, Djaldetti R, “Effect of medical cannabis on thermal quantitative measurements of pain in patients with Parkinson’s disease”, European Journal of Pain. 2016 Oct 10