March monthly media – medicinal cannabis on our minds

A round-up of media articles about cannabis over the month of March 2015. This month the media covered medicinal cannabis, legalisation, synthetic cannabis and the effects of cannabis on the brain.

cannabis media

As expected, the bulk of marijuana media during March centered on the ever-present medicinal cannabis debate, with lobbyists working feverishly to keep it in the media along with the agenda for legalisation of recreational use. As creative claims of cannabis’s healing powers continue to circulate, many of us will be challenged to separate the fact from fiction, the evidence from the stories, in order to develop educated opinions. This month’s media wrap up covers off both the pro and anti-cannabis stories with an aim to provide a foundation for informed consideration.

Medicinal cannabis and legalisation

Action in the ACT

Last month saw a myriad of different opinions come to light relating to medicinal cannabis and its proposed legalisation in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). With news.com.au claiming one Greens MLA wants to make the ACT the medical marijuana capital of Australia, and the Legislative Assembly already holding an enquiry into a bill containing a medical marijuana scheme, it would seem that legalisation is not far off.

In support of the bill and existing action, Chief Executive of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Association ACT, Carrie Fowlie, has said those opposing the move in the medical profession are taking a narrow approach to the topic and dismissing opinions other than their own. Interestingly, later in the month, Dr Elizabeth Gallagher of the Australian Medical Association seemed to take quite a measured approach to the debate, explaining the concern of medical practitioners was essentially that they are responsible for the wellbeing of their patients, and more research is required to assess health outcomes. She said, “We would like to be able to get a quality controlled, targeted product out if we are going to use it, rather than just the crude cannabis which is more like a sledge hammer.” She dismissed the Green’s bill, saying it did not provide for strict enough regulation to ensure safety. Click here for the full article. Dr Gallagher’s view was reinforced by Drug Free Australia who called for further trials so cannabis may be tested to the same standard as other drugs.

In further emphasising the need for regulation and scientific study, the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine has voiced its own concern that the Green’s bill will allow cannabis to escape the scrutiny of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA). Again reinforcing the clear message that more needs to be known, Dr Maureen Mitchell, representing the Society, called for research to ascertain correct dosage for pain relief.

Let’s be blunt: some articles are just plain irresponsible

In stark contrast to these more measured approaches – views that essentially support the proposal, if there is evidence to back the claims – other organisations continued to promote the ‘now is the time’ message, making unfounded claims that the drug can cure a range of serious illnesses. In a disappointing article, fraught with errors even on the most basic cannabis information, Makia Freeman of earthweareone.com, claimed the momentum of cannabis oil, ‘a world class healer’ is unstoppable, and its ability to cure cancer essentially a scientific fact. While many who suffer, and those of us who support them, undoubtedly hope for such a medical cure, articles like these not only continue to irresponsibly raise unsupported hope in those with devastating illnesses, but also potentially damage the medicinal cannabis debate, by emphasising just how many unfounded claims are out there.

NSW Election: medicinal cannabis debate strangely quiet

On the NSW election front, the Liberals retained government after the end-of-month vote. Despite their win and heavy campaigning from both sides, medical cannabis and proposed trials was a sleeper issue, overshadowed by debates about leasing aspects of the electricity system in the days leading up to the poll.

With this in mind, the debate was still given some play in the media, ABC’s Compass reporting four out of five of their Compass voters would support legalisation of medicinal cannabis. The article again highlighted trials have been planned, even with the Opposition Leader’s claims they are unnecessary as the medical benefits of cannabis have already been proven. This last claim is again in spite of many major peak and scientific bodies in Australia continuously reinforcing not enough is known about the effects of the drug and more research is required to satisfy TGA requirements of safety and efficacy expected before making drugs available.

Cannabis can’t be a prescribed drug

Finally, while in support of medicinal cannabis, former Dean of the University of Melbourne’s medical school, Professor David Pennington, has said that crude cannabis can never be a prescribed drug as potency and side-effects vary depending on its composition, preparation and route of administration. He continued on to point out flaws in the planned NSW medical cannabis trials and again emphasised that such trials will not lead to a regulated prescribed drug.

While not explored in the article, several pharmaceutical preparations of cannabis have been developed, including Sativex, which is currently used in the UK for relief of Multiple Sclerosis pain and is undergoing (currently unsuccessful) trials for treatment of cancer pain. Preparations of this nature allow for greater regulation of composition and dosage, a point made in our own NCPIC ‘cannabis for medical use’ bulletin.

In general, it would seem the debate itself has evolved from simply legalisation of the drug for medical purposes, to regulation of the drug for the purposes of safety and minimisation of misuse. In looking at some of the media covering the USA State legalisations, the potential for an ‘I have a sore back – wink, wink’ mentality, or use by minors, can’t be overlooked if the drug and its availability aren’t correctly regulated. This is only too evident in the very cannabis-sympathetic National Geographic series, ‘American Weed’ released several years ago.

To sum up last month’s medicinal debate, the bulk of those making submissions seem to be pro medicinal legalisation, however, the majority of prominent medical and scientific organisations continue to call for more research so if it is legalised for medical purposes, it can be done so in the most safe manner possible.

And in other news

In wrapping up the rest of this month’s cannabis media quickly, one celeb found himself the centre of cannabis attention, research reveals cannabis side-effects on the brain, and synthetic cannabis found ‘behind the counter’ of popular shop.

On a trivial note, Carl Stefanovik, of Channel Nine’s ‘Today Show’ found himself at the centre of the legalisation debate recently, after making a throw away statement about previous cannabis use and giving his opinion that it was ‘just great fun’. While some media found his admissions refreshing, others chastised the Logie winner for the statements.

On a more serious note, Nature.com posted an advanced online publication of Molecular Psychiatry’s article relating to research into the effects of cannabis on the brain. The research, conducted by a combination of Spanish scientists, included a study of 16 heavy cannabis users, with an aim to test their memory functions. The findings revealed use of the drug affected working and declarative memory functions, though this effect ‘tended to normalise with abstinence’. More interestingly, the research also found use of the drug caused an increased susceptibility to false memories, that is, decreased ability to identify false stimuli/memories as events that never occurred.

Last, but not least, after months of media warnings about the dangers of synthetic cannabis, police seized almost a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of synthetic cannabis from ‘Off ya Tree’ in Brisbane, a popular national franchise that sells clothing, skate equipment and provides body piercing services. The seizure reveals that the drug, though it is now banned across Australia, is still being sold by mainstream outlets despite crack downs when it became illegal.

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