Supporters argue medicinal cannabis use is vital to easing suffering in many cases

SUPERVISION: Medicinal cannabis supporters argue the drug eases suffering of patients all over the world and its safe use is dependent on practitioner support.
SUPERVISION: Medicinal cannabis supporters argue the drug eases suffering of patients all over the world and its safe use is dependent on practitioner support.

IT is with extreme disappointment that I read the opinion piece by Dr Jenny Martin ('Putting ice on hype over medicinal marijuana’, Herald, 12/8).

I am not a medical practitioner, but I have better knowledge than most on the medical benefits of cannabis for patients in extreme distress after watching my 25-year-old son succumb to bowel cancer last year.

The rush to act on medical cannabis is driven by thousands of Australians, just like Dan, who do not have sufficient outcomes with pharmaceuticals and may turn to illicit cannabis as a matter of last resort.

I have heard directly from hundreds of these sick and desperate patients and I believe that if we consider ourselves as a compassionate country, we owe it to the sick to provide a natural alternative to mainstream pharmaceuticals if that is what works best for the individual.

I understand many approved medicines are often not only expensive to the taxpayer, but are also addictive, frequently cause unpleasant side effects and are not always therapeutically effective. Such was the case for Dan.

The reality is that medicinal cannabis is approved in many countries around the world, it is successfully treating many intractable conditions including paediatric epilepsy, and it is improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of patients.

It is desirable for patients to have medical supervision, it is desirable for patients to know that they are being prescribed the correct strain for their particular need and it is desirable that they can access safe medicinal cannabis grown under good manufacturing practices being free of pesticides, chemicals and adulteration.

Fortunately Australia has the capacity to do all of that. The TGA regulates the manufacture of herbal medicines to incredibly high standards already.

I think Dr Martin’s “slow and steady” approach is actually forcing people to put themselves at risk from all the problems that she has listed.

Dr Martin used the example of a patient who thought she was dying from using cannabis. There was no mention of age, no mention of other drugs or if that patient would have accessed an unknown strain from the illicit market.

This highlights the necessity for quality control and emphasises the need for appropriately-educated medical supervision, advice on the correct dose, strain and method of administration.

I accept Dr Martin may not be comfortable with advising such patients, however there are many skilled and educated professionals internationally who are happy to share their expertise with those who are willing to learn.

She may remember I invited her to the United in Compassion Medicinal Cannabis Symposium in May.

If she had attended, like the thousands who did, she would have heard from medical practitioners and scientists from the USA, Israel and Spain and how they are helping people with a wide variety of conditions.

Another important fact which is creating worldwide interest is the statistical evidence now emerging from the US states where medicinal cannabis is used for pain, anxiety and depression showing significant reductions in deaths from opiates and enormous cost savings to the health system.

Lucy Haslam is the founding director of United in Compassion. This piece was written in consultation with members of the UIC Scientific Advisory Board, David Caldicott and Justin Sinclair.