Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Finally! Medical Cannabis Legalised in Victoria

For the first time in decades, some people and their families in Australia will be the first to legally have access to medical cannabis. Laws passed in February of this year paved the way for legal, and therefore, safe access (due to the risk of spiking with other, harmful and more addictive drugs by greedy dealers) to medicinal cannabis products, with the state of Victoria being the first to reap the benefits.

Thankfully, children with severe epilepsy, which can kill or cause severe, permanent disability, will be the first to be allowed access in early 2017. The newly-legal herbal medicine will be rolled out gradually, in a range of forms such as tinctures, capsules, sprays and oils, beginning with a small, strictly monitored cultivation trial. While this is still very restrictive, as they say, freedom begets more freedom, and there are already plans for further liberalisation.

Perhaps the most famous case of this herbal medicine transforming the life of a child with epilepsy is that of Charlotte Figi. Before a low-THC, (and therefore non-psychoactive) high-CBD hemp oil, she was having seizures around twice in one hour, and was in hospice, basically a vegetable. Now 9, although she still cannot speak, Charlotte is able to walk, ride a bicycle and go to school, and only suffers two seizures a month on average. Her story has helped to change laws allowing access to similar high CBD strains in 17 US states, but not before triggering a rush of medical refugees to Colorado, where use of cannabis and hemp is much more liberal. I do not consider use of the term "refugee" to be diminishing the experience of those fleeing Syria or Iraq, as these children with epilepsy are also fighting for their own lives, and a life where they can actually do things and progress as opposed to remaining a vegetable.

While I support the use of scientific research, no one should be waiting for "more research" before this is available for anyone of any age or health status. Evidence-based practice is a combination of the best scientific evidence available, the patient's desires and the practitioner's experience. This includes "anecdotal evidence", and if something is producing such dramatic results without toxic side effects, because it is a natural medicine that is used for millennia and fits well into the body's own endocannabinoid system, it should be allowed. People are able to make good decisions for themselves without someone hovering over them, even though we often need professional assistance or a second opinion. I have found a small, older study showing that 7 of 8 epileptic participants received a significant benefit from taking cannabidiol (CBD), along with two surveys on hemp extracts for epilepsy that yielded positive responses in the vast majority of cases...and while I would not consider this to be enough in most cases, I am suspending that for a herbal extract with such dramatic anecdotal reports. Pharmaceutical anticonvulsants do have toxic, disabling side effects, and I will not insist upon their use to those who do not want them because a natural alternative has appeared. I do remember a teacher saying that, in a pinch, kava would be an "okay" substitute, but there are no other herbal medicines able to act on epilepsy in such a manner as cannabis or hemp. I am very happy for these Victorian children, and I wish everyone who is able to access natural cannabis/hemp all the best, and as little "moral"/pro-pharmaceutical handwringing as possible.

[Image of the Island Archway on The Great Ocean Road, Victoria: David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0]

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