Monthly mainstream media wrap up medicine, mining and manufacturing

As Vladimir Putin s ships headed Down Under, the Victorian election heated up and Jacqui Lambie stole headlines with her unconventional support of the Australian Defence Force, cannabis news in November was a little lighter on than it has been for the rest of the year. Despite the lull, as always, the cannabis legalisation debate continued, the police cracked down on stoned miners, synthetic drugs importation is on the rise, and a few people finally stopped to ask where s the evidence?

The cannabis legalisation effort has continued, albeit, a little more quietly last month. In late November, a cross party group of senators introduced a bill to federal parliament proposing the creation of an independent regulatory body (outside of the TGA) which would be responsible for licencing cannabis growing, manufacturing and distribution in Australia. The bill suggested this body would use clinical evidence to determine how the drug could be prescribed. While there is some support for the bill, the general consensus is that it requires further debate.

A few months ago, we reported in our monthly wrap up that several newspapers around the country were making the big claim that the cannabis movement was truly on the march, and the likelihood of medicinal legalisation by the end of 2014 was high (pardon the pun). But now, as the final parliamentary sitting period for the year draws to a close, it looks as though pro-cannabis supporters will have to march on into next year in order to keep their movement going. The change of government in Victoria indicates a change of momentum for medicinal cannabis in that state, with the topic being part of Daniel Andrews first conversation with NSW Premier Mike Baird the day after his election. Keep an eye out, as we ll continue to cover this in our monthly media wrap up in 2015.

Dogs sniff out stoned workers

Reports from the Pilbara mining region in the last week suggest police are ramping up efforts to cut down on drug use in the mining industry. Police have used sniffer dogs on one site to detect illicit drugs, including the THC in cannabis, as part of an operation that will see them visit several sites across the region. The move was supported by the Chief Executive of the first site, who emphasised the safety risks that result from drug use by mining workers.

Synthetic drugs importation and use on the rise

Police in Western Australia have described the synthetic drugs problem as significant , after recently seizing substantial quantities of various synthetic drugs, including synthetic cannabinoids. Yahoo News reported that synthetic drug use in Western Australia was higher than that in other states and that, along with the rest of the country, it s a primary market for Asian manufacturers of the drugs. Reporting went on to emphasise that the level of danger is increased due to the fact that the chemicals used are largely unknown, the effects are unknown, and manufacturers continuously change the composition of the drugs to thwart law enforcement efforts to minimise importation and use.

Where s the evidence?

In a bit of a refreshing twist this month, a number of publications have pointed to the need for further research into the healing properties of cannabis before any real consideration is given to cannabis legalisation. Like NCPIC, the authors of these pieces understand that components of the drug may have useful medicinal properties, but call for controlled clinical trials in humans and additional research into short and long-term effects among other areas.

One of the most controversial issues raised by the lobby groups aiming to make medicinal cannabis use legal, is the focus on the use of the cannabinoid CBD for atypical childhood epilepsy. This frequently mentions the so called low THC cannabis strain Charlotte s web for the management (and even claims of a cure by some) for Dravet s and similar syndromes. An eminent paediatric neurologist, Prof John Whitehall, had an interesting article in a recent Spectator magazine shedding light on the many claims, complexities and controversies in this area.

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Cancer Research, Victoria Forster, wrote in The Conversation , despite considerable public interest, the data isn t yet there to show that cannabinoids are an effective treatment option in cancer in humans. Interestingly, she goes on, THC, one of the cannabinoids used in the study, has in fact already been tested in glioma patients: eight years ago in a clinical trial on nine patients. This study achieved its main aim, which was to see if THC was tolerated in these patients without serious side effects, but all of the patients in the study ultimately died within the time expected if they had received no further treatment.” Despite this, the study was cited under the heading Cures Brain Cancer on one of many websites listing medical studies that allegedly prove cannabis cures cancer. While clearly not meaning to be negative, but rather realistic, Ms Forster is simply reinforcing this month s message from a range of groups that evidence is yet unclear on cannabis as a medicine and further analysis is called for.

Release of National Drug Strategy Household Survey

The 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey was released late last month, with a great new infographic-style look and detailed information about drug use in Australia. Of note, the age at which young people first try cannabis has slightly increased, and 10.2% of all people have used the drug in the last 12 months. Keep an eye out for a page coming soon on our website with all the cannabis-related results and a blog out this month. And if you re interested in reading more about cannabis in the media, check out our media exposes on drugs blog.

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