April media wrap up – does cannabis cure cancer?

A round-up of media articles about cannabis over the month of April 2015. This month the media covered medicinal cannabis trials, synthetic cannabis and fake cures.

cannabis media

This month, with more emotive stories capturing the headlines, news on the cannabis front – even medicinal cannabis – experienced a notable, albeit presumably brief, quiet period. With focus elsewhere, the word on weed was limited, with minimal updates on moves to test and legalise medicinal cannabis, and some coverage of our own synthetic cannabis story. With this lack of marijuana media, this month we look at a few other stories that can be tied back into some serious issues relating to cannabis.

Medicinal cannabis – is Australia uniting?

It's never truly quiet on this front is it? In April, though media significantly subsided, the topic did gain brief attention, with the ABC noting Queensland and Victorian Governments have joined forces with NSW, in an effort to enable their residents to take part in NSW's pending medical cannabis trials. The media, on behalf of the public, also called for South Australia to join this force, with a combined approach a means of enabling more Australians to access the trials.

The article noted that parents of children suffering rare forms of epilepsy particularly welcomed the move, supporting research. The Australian Medical Association Queensland also welcomed further research, noting its importance in determining whether use of one cannabis component – cannabidiol (CBD) – as treatment, is safe and efficacious.

In The Conversation, Professor David Penington again entered the debate, providing a reasonably balanced view of what happens after the trials – what legalised medicinal cannabis might look like in Australia and its benefits, in addition to the disadvantages potentially suffered by young people whose brains are still developing.

Synthetic cannabis – the drug, the dangers and death

NCPIC’s own synthetic cannabis story also made a splash in April, with media around the country picking up on the March online survey that explored the first-hand experiences and stories of people who have tried this illicit drug.

The survey revealed more than half of people were aware of the potential side-effects – including paranoia, hallucinations, vomiting, psychosis, heart issues – but elected to try the drug in spite of the potential for a negative reaction. The majority of people noted they only tried the drug once and wouldn’t try it again. Perhaps most interesting were the stories people shared of their own experiences, with around 10 percent saying they thought they would die or that they were already dead after consuming synthetic cannabis.

The full story is here and our new synthetic cannabis page is here.

Attack of the fake cures

Last month, we also saw the story of Belle Gibson and her miracle, natural (food) cancer cure hit the media with force. While Belle, her purported cure, charity and her story in general have been circulating for some time, supported by major media outlets, in April, the coverage took a nasty turn when it was revealed that not only was Belle’s ‘cure’ not really a cure, but more importantly, she never actually had cancer in the first place. While mental health organisations rushed to her aid, encouraging media to go easy on her due to her troubled upbringing and subsequent mental instability, an article in The Age’s comment section made the very valid point that lying about the illness was only half the problem.

The Age article highlighted that Belle is just one in a long line of people who claim anything from healthy eating to a diet of pineapple can cure even the most dire of illnesses, including terminal cancer. If you take two minutes to run a Google or YouTube search, you can confirm for yourself that there are thousands of people who seem to be pushing unsubstantiated natural miracle cures for illnesses, as a means of supporting either an agenda or their wallet. As suggested in The Age, and various other articles, these people prey on others who are desperately seeking a means to heal themselves or prolong their life, and generally have no evidence – just anecdotes – to back up their claims. In a similar story this month, the Fairfax media reported on the case of Elizabeth Edmunds who has been charged with fraud in relation to her false claims of terminal ovarian cancer. As part of the scam she claimed cannabis oil relieved her pain.

This situation is one that is highly prevalent in the world of cannabis lobbying. NCPIC responds to multiple social media comments and posts each week which assert that cannabis can cure cancer. And while components of cannabis in pharmaceutical products such as dronabinol and nabiximols may play a role in the management of some conditions, there is no existing scientific evidence that this drug can cure cancer.

No one knows what the future will bring, and organisations like NCPIC continue to support and advocate for further research into the potential therapeutic qualities of components of cannabis. But until such evidence exists, these unfounded claims continue to create unsubstantiated hope in a group of highly vulnerable people.

Perhaps most disappointing in the last month, is the continued support of these unfounded claims by prominent members of the Australian media who have significant impact on members of the public from all walks of life in Australia – and this is despite the Belle Gibson and Elizabeth Edmunds incidents. When will we learn?

While the news should always be shared and open, public media figures have a responsibility to their audience – an audience that largely believes what they are saying and doesn't necessarily do their own investigation – to research their stories fully and present them with as much accuracy as possible. No one – especially the media – wants to end up with egg on their face, but in cases like this, there is so much more at stake than a little backtracking and embarrassment.

If you’re interested in knowing more about what research has been done into medicinal cannabis in its various forms, check out our medical cannabis bulletin. Likewise, if you want to better understand the difference between quality research, and research that needs further work, check out this blog.

-->