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Australia medical cannabis debate: nature’s way or pharma’s

  medical cannabis

Australian Jai Whitelaw was just 10 years old when he first tried medical cannabis – and it was given to him by his mother. To get perspective on this, you have to know that Jai was having up to 500 epileptic seizures every single day.

Australians understand that a parent might reach out and try something that science doesn’t yet recognize. In 2015, 91% of Australi
ans supported the use of medical cannabis for seriously ill people – even if full scientific evidence in favour of cannabis as a treatment isn’t yet complete.

Jai’s mom says she was ready to end her own life because she couldn’t bear to see her child suffering, so she risked being on the wrong side of the law which prohibited both CBD and THC cannabis extracts. She claims that neither she nor Jai would be alive today if it weren’t for cannabis.

It wasn’t just the fits – the side-effects of the medications she had to give Jai left him unable to function. Today, the child is well and happy, and has had only five fits in 15 months.

Pharma says it has the answers

The University of Sydney’s clinical director says there has to be a more scientific way of doing things. After all, cannabinoids have specific effects, and if the molecules can be extracted, they can be formulated into very precise medicines aimed at targeting specific ailments. He says that cannabinoids can be extracted and put together again as needed.

Others differ. They say that whole plant extract combines all the molecules in cannabis and that these work in concert to achieve the final effect. To know the real answer, specific extracts and whole plant extracts will have to be widely tested in clinical trials.

Herbal healers say their way works

Even before Australia made legal avenues for the use of medical cannabis available, there have been alternative healers who supplied cannabis oil to the sick. Aboriginal Tony Bower says he has been making cannabis tinctures and drops and giving them away to the sick for years. And he says there’s no need for cannabis that gives his patients a high either.

Bower says he currently supplies non-psychoactive cannabis extracts to 150 children and hopes he won’t have to repeat his experience of doing jail time as a result of this practice thanks to new laws, despite tight controls and limitations.

Mom says you get cannabis – and medical cannabis

Cherie O’Connell, mother of an epileptic daughter, says “Just because its cannabis doesn’t mean it’s all the same.” Presumably, O’Connell is referring to the difference between cannabis oils containing high percentages of THC as opposed to those containing CBD, a compound that is showing enormous promise for seizure patients, and that doesn’t make it’s user ‘stoned’ or ‘high’ in any way.

Science agrees, but…

CBD is currently being tested on children by a pharmaceutical company that hopes to register a drug containing an extract obtained from non-psychoactive cannabis or hemp plants. The company, GW Pharmaceuticals says it will be able to deliver precise doses of CBD only, rather than combining the cocktail of natural compounds that occur in cannabis plants.

Those who promote using herbal extracts argue that with proper regulation and testing, precise doses could also be obtained from whole plant extracts – and patients would get the benefit of the ‘entourage effect’ in which various ingredients boost each other’s’ effect

More information is needed

It’s difficult not to get excited when one reads story after story being told about medical cannabis – even when you don’t have to become a stoner to enjoy the benefits they talk about. But reason must prevail. Nothing works for everyone. Nothing is a cure-all. And in this particular instance, research, even when results are promising, is mostly still in its earliest stages.

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