February saw an end to the Christmas quiet period when it came to cannabis news coverage. Though the previous few months have seen debate around the drug quieten somewhat, with Federal Parliament sitting in February, the demand for changes to Australian drug policy was again plastered all over media publications.
Medicinal cannabis legislation leaps ahead
Of most note, February saw the first real moves at a Federal level towards making cannabis available for medical purposes. While states and territories do have the power to legalise cannabis use themselves, without changes to Federal laws, the options for a legal supply of the drug would be very limited.
At the start of February, The Hon. Sussan Ley introduced a bill to parliament, which if passed, would allow a single national controlled cultivation of cannabis for scientific and medical purposes. The aim of the change would be to ensure available cannabis (for science and medicine) would be safer, with more consistent potency and control of additives like pesticides and chemicals (which are sometimes used in private and black market grows). The bill was passed in the Lower House with support from Labor and the Greens.
So what does it all mean when can we start using cannabis as medicine? This question is yet to be answered and may only be answered if the legislation is passed and allowed to roll out. While some pro-cannabis supporters have welcomed the move, seeing it as a step towards legal medicinal availability, others wish to have whole plant cannabis available and follow the West Coast US model of quasi-legalisation.
Sussan Ley commented on the bill, suggesting a reliable source of cannabis will ensure more involvement by medical practitioners who may have previously shied away from suggesting cannabis as a treatment option due to product inconsistency and related issues. Needless to say, many medical practitioners will still look to ongoing research to ascertain efficacy and appropriate dosing regimes for specific illnesses and symptoms before recommending. Currently it appears Australia will take a more regulated approach than the USA and restrict access to pharmaceutical preparations within TGA approval processes even if the drug is legalised for medicinal purposes.
As laws looked to change at a Federal level, the Victorian Government released more information about pending medical cannabis trials in the state. A release about the trials suggested up to 60 young people aged 1-to-17 suffering from epileptic seizures will take part, with the first patient due to complete in mid-2016. The trials look set to test cannabidiol (CBD) which unlike THC, does not produce intoxicating effects in most people at moderate doses, and has been theorised to help prevent seizures.
Cannabis studies: memory, mood and other drugs
Marijuana and the memory: For a long time, studies have pointed to a possible connection between memory challenges and cannabis use. A study published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggested using cannabis to get high could have long-term effects on the way the brain processes information and possible toxic effects on neurons. The study considered factors such as alcohol, cigarettes and other substances and involved analysis of data from 3,500 cannabis users over 25 years which tested their verbal memory, recall speed and executive function. Researchers point out more studies are needed in the area to achieve more conclusive results.
Cannabis health effects: A study by Columbia University released in JAMA psychiatry in February has analysed a sample of 35,000 US adults to better understand the effects of cannabis. The results of the study show cannabis doesn t increase the risk of developing mood or anxiety orders, but may cause paranoia and is linked to significantly increased risk of developing alcohol, cannabis, nicotine and other drug use disorders.
Drugs and driving
Further confusion around cannabis and driving ensued this month, as a 33 year old driver attended court after a drug test revealed THC, despite his reporting it was nine days following use. Barristers for defendants are quick to point out the state Government website indicated tests typically pick up traces up to around 12 hours after use information that has caused some confusion. Debate and protest continues about testing and the drug driving laws as the Government plans to increase roadside drug testing.
Cannabis censorship or business-as-usual?
A final interesting story in February suggested Facebook is taking down US-based cannabis business websites, citing violation of their community standards standards which generally take a global approach to most issues. While Facebook may take some time to attend to all complaints, it is worthy of note that most sites were reportedly relaunched after small changes to ensure they met Facebook terms.