Monthly media wrap up: medicinal cannabis again front of mind

February saw the quiet of previous months fade into a new year of debate about medicinal cannabis, more drug driving crashes and interesting new research.

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After the end of last year was reasonably quiet on the cannabis front, late February again saw it come to the forefront of media with the sad passing of young cancer patient, Dan Haslam. The Centre sends our deepest condolences to the Haslam family for their loss.

February saw a sharp increase in cannabis-related coverage, with continued reports associated with the two synthetic cannabis deaths in Mackay, various new research released, and another reminder to steer clear of driving while under the influence of drugs.

Medicinal cannabis – the ongoing debate

With the very sad passing of Dan Haslam, the media about legalisation of medicinal cannabis increased again, with spokespeople from both sides of the debate assessing current moves and potential outcomes. Mr Haslam’s mother again became a keen and vocal advocate for legalisation of medicinal cannabis and commended various Government officers for supporting and delivering the opportunity for trials.

Conversely, Professor Nick Tally, President of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, penned an article for the Daily Telegraph, which was underpinned by the message, ‘Legalising medicinal cannabis in Australia, as many now propose, will solve one set of problems but create other serious issues’. Professor Tally briefly examined the debate from the perspective of both physicians, who pledge to ‘first do no harm’, and patients who can’t be sure of short and long-term side effects due to the lack of research into medicinal cannabis uses, side effects and dosage regulation. He signed off by noting his support for the NSW trials, and the promise of answers that further research may bring. With emotive writing and heart-wrenching case-studies often driving the writing behind this ongoing debate, this article offers a new perspective and a strong emphasis on further investigation to determine more conclusive answers. 

On an interesting note, a blog appeared in the Vancouver Sun in February highlighting some of the growing problems being experienced in Vancouver, where cannabis has been legalised for medicinal use. The blog pointed out that while some research has shown benefits for cannabis use with some ailments, the city’s marijuana outlets have been making exaggerated claims about the therapeutic and even curative capacities of their product, some irresponsibly suggesting cannabis can cure anything from psoriasis to cancer, anxiety, MS and depression. The article goes on to point out the issues associated with the lack of regulation of the drug.

Cannabis research in the media

In February, the media reported on a variety of new research. On a slightly less serious note, scientists from Yale have shown the infamous ‘munchies’ may be caused by the brain producing a different set of chemicals that transform a ‘full’ feeling into a hunger that can never really be satisfied. The research highlights a previously unknown aspect of the brain’s circuitry, which scientists believe may help in development of appetite suppressants or boosters.

In other research, a scientist from Germany, Dr Dirk Lachenmeier compared a wide range of drugs to determine comparatively how ‘deadly’ they are. Not surprisingly, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin fell into the high risk category. Despite other included drugs in the research, and the fact cannabis is not known for its lethality, but more prominently for its psychological and respiratory side effects, publications once again fixated on the much promoted cannabis and alcohol comparison, highlighting the risk of cannabis may have been overestimated in the past.

Interestingly, at the same time some publications were again comparing cannabis and alcohol – both potentially harmful substances – other publications reported on a recent British study suggesting the risk of psychosis was up to five times higher for regular high potency (‘skunk’ as it is known in the UK) cannabis users than non-users. The reporting was based on a six-year study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College in London and included 780 participants, showing specifically that users of high-potency skunk-like cannabis had a three-fold increased of risk of psychosis, compared to those who never tried cannabis. Interestingly the ‘skunk’ cannabis referred to in the article is roughly the same potency as that we tested on the streets of NSW.

A reminder not to drive stoned

Finally, anyone who was driving to work in Sydney on 25 February and had the unfortunate need to cross the Harbour Bridge would have suffered the frustration of traffic gridlock and hours of delay after a woman crashed her van and closed several lanes of traffic. Latest reports are that the woman has admitted she smoked cannabis before driving, fell asleep behind the wheel and drifted into oncoming traffic. This story is just another reminder that cannabis can seriously impair driving abilities!

Quit Cannabis

Recently released book, ‘Quit Cannabis’, written by Professor Jan Copeland, Etty Matalon and Sally Rooke continued to gain media interest last month and is available for online purchase here.

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