This month, our field has revealed a combination of disappointment and tragedy. This has been reflected upon in the media with articles emphasising the growing concern around synthetic cannabis use, medical cannabis trials not yielding expected results, and weed taking on a persona of its own on Twitter, where tokes and tweets seem to be going hand-in-hand.
Legalisation of cannabis a step closer at the start of 2015?
Towards the end of last month, and edging into the New Year, NSW Premier Mike Baird took action on the medical cannabis front, introducing first-of-its kind laws in Australia that protects terminally ill people from prosecution for using cannabis. The catch? Supplying cannabis remains illegal (for many good reasons), so those who use will need to grow their own. In order to gain this new protection, terminally ill patients will need to lodge a medical certificate with the Department of Justice.
Of important note, while other states are following suit in looking at protecting terminally ill medical cannabis users, there has been no discussion of the legalisation of cannabis for any other purpose besides end-of-life medical use. Keep an eye out next month, as NCPIC starts to introduce more information about medical cannabis, including comparisons of components such as CBD and THC, in addition to mythbusters that will help to clarify some of the growing confusion about medicinal cannabis verses street weed.
Cannabis and cancer pain medical cannabis trials and research update
The use of cannabis to treat pain resulting from cancer has been an ongoing debate within media, and among cannabis researchers, for some time. A recent study released by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) found that nearly 13 percent of the 1500 chronic pain sufferers participating had used cannabis in the past year but only 6% in the past month, with one in three of this group saying they found it effective in relieving pain. Study Leader, Louisa Degenhardt, pointed out, These are all subjective scores but it means there is definitely a group of people who think that taking it was beneficial.
When asked to comment recently, our Director pointed out that 87% of this chronic pain group hadn t used cannabis; that the cannabis using sample were significantly younger, had more severe problems and were more likely to have had drug problems in the past. She also noted that almost a third of recent cannabis users in this sample met criteria for lifetime harmful use/cannabis use disorder.
Interestingly, in contrast to the implications of the NDARC study, GW Pharmaceuticals a specialist in developing medical cannabis products released disappointing results after a recent phase three clinical trial of Sativex (pharmaceutical THC/CBD mouth spray) for cancer pain treatment. The phase three trial of 399 cancer patients failed to show the cannabis product to be any more effective than a placebo. Despite the results, the company will continue trials, focusing now on patients who have been shown to be more responsive to the drug, in an aim to prove it may be useful to a subset of cancer sufferers. The same drug is already available in some countries as a treatment of multiple sclerosis pain. We ll keep an eye on how this and related trials progress and post updates on Facebook and in our forthcoming medical cannabis online information centre.
Synthetic cannabis a covert killer
Of the most note this month, was the tragic news that two men from Mackay had died from suspected poising after consuming a synthetic cannabis product, Full Moon . The two men, aged 33 and 41, reportedly purchased the drug from a local adult shop, which subsequently led to a series of police raids on related outlets, resulting in a large quantity of the drug being seized.
Professor Jan Copeland of NCPIC commented on the tragedy to a number of media outlets, emphasising the dangers and unknown nature of synthetic cannabis, saying clinicians had seen patients suffering seizures, cardiovascular effects, kidney failure and severe mental health effects after using the drug. She went on to say that the two deaths are a stark reminder of the risks these drugs pose.
Is weed taking over the Twittersphere?
During January, SBS reported on a recent research study conducted by the Washington University Institute for Public Health, which identified there were seven million tweets posted on Twitter in one month about marijuana, with a ratio of 15 to one pro cannabis verses anti cannabis messaging. Lead author of the research, Dr Patricia Cavazos-Rehg said most tweets were posted by people aged under 25 years old, and many from teenagers. Those who tweeted pro-cannabis messages had a total of approximately 50 million followers which was 12 times the follower numbers of those posting anti-cannabis messages. Ten percent of messages posted by pro-cannabis Tweeters were made by people who were using cannabis or high at the time.
While one of the many benefits of social media is its capacity for giving people a platform to share their views, 50 percent of Twitter s users are aged under 35, pointing to a highly impressionable and young audience. The proliferation of pro-cannabis messages especially those making unfounded claims may inaccurately suggest to teenagers that more people try or use cannabis than is actually true and that it is not harmful.
Looking for a good read? ‘Quit Cannabis’ is now available
Finally this month, a big congratulations to Professor Jan Copeland, Etty Matalon and Sally Rooke who have released their book, ‘Quit Cannabis’. The book provides insights into the health effects of using cannabis, and also includes a practical, step-by-step guide for quitting and staying quit. An interesting read, this one is certainly no text book, with a conversational tone, a series of fascinating anecdotes and stories, and some really practical steps for leaving cannabis behind.
Throughout the end of January, Professor Copeland has been invited to comment on the book and her more than 20 years of experience in cannabis research and prevention, and has provided some unique insights into the drug and its potential harms.
If you would like to order a copy of the book, please visit: http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=653&book=9781743319925