Pubdate: Mon, 23 May 2016
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2016


Caregivers Fear a Legalised Drug May Arrive Too Late for Their Sick 
Family Members.

Jai Whitelaw was 10 when he first took medical cannabis, given to him 
by his mother in a bid to treat the debilitating epilepsy that saw 
him endure up to 500 seizures a day.

Faced with the stark choice of breaking the law in the hope of 
soothing his chronic pain, or denying him possible relief, Michelle 
Whitelaw reached breaking point.

"I literally sat on the couch for two days, thinking 'Do I end his 
life and mine? Or do I risk helping him'," she said.

She chose the latter, risking criminal charges. Now, almost two years 
on, things are set to change as Australia brings in new laws allowing 
the drug to be used for medical purposes.

"If it didn't work, I wouldn't be here and Jai wouldn't be here," Ms 
Whitelaw said at the Mardi Grass festival, an annual celebration of 
marijuana in Nimbin in Australia's east.

At his lowest point Jai had to be resuscitated, was unable to write 
or read at school or even play outdoors as he struggled with fits and 
the side-effects of pharmaceutical medications.

In the 15 months since he began taking medicinal cannabis, which he 
takes in liquid form, he has had only four seizures. In Nimbin, he 
seemed like any other youngster enjoying the annual party.

While recreational cannabis is drawn from the whole plant, 
therapeutic forms are derived from extracting particular types of 
cannabinoids - molecules that are found in cannabis - from the plant.

"What we are starting to understand now is that different types of 
cannabinoids work differently for different kinds of health 
problems," Nicholas Lintzeris, the clinical director at the 
University of Sydney's Lambert Initiative, said.

"You extract the cannabinoids from the plants and then you put them 
together again according to the specific profile you want."

Therapeutic use is legal in several US states and other nations 
including Canada, Israel and the Netherlands.

Support for the practice has grown in Australia in recent years, with 
91% in favour of legalising it for the seriously ill, according to a 
2015 Roy Morgan poll.

The national government has listened. While recreational use remains 
illegal, laws were passed in February permitting it for medical 
purposes, in a move Health Minister Sussan Ley said meant "genuine 
patients are no longer treated as criminals".

In response, the states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria 
are changing their regulations and trialling the drug on severely ill 
patients, with two states setting up cannabis farms.

The legislative shift is a vindication for people such as Aboriginal 
Australian Tony Bower, who has long given cannabis in oil and alcohol 
forms for free to parents of ill children after working out how to 
develop non-psychotropic medication from the plant.

"You can't refuse people. I'm an indigenous Australian, it's not in 
our culture," Mr Bower said of why he continued to supply families 
despite the legal risks, which once saw him spend six weeks in jail.

About 150 children are regular patients of Mr Bower, and his drug is 
set to reach more people after Anthony Coffey's Australian Organic 
Therapeutic firm obtained rights to it.

Mr Coffey plans to sell the medicine at AUD$60 (1,500 baht) per 
patient per month.

The budding industry has benefits beyond the medicinal, with hopes it 
could fuel "hemployment" in rural regions where jobless rates are 
higher, Nimbin-based Hemp (Help End Marijuana Prohibition) Party 
president Michael Balderstone said.

Mr Coffey said his company has already attracted investment from 
China and the Middle East. Others are also looking to cash in on 
legal crops, with the University of Sydney estimating initial demand 
in Australia at more than AUD$100 million annually.

High-profile physician and drug reform advocate Alex Wodak said there 
is growing evidence medicinal cannabis use can relieve symptoms in 
some severe cases such as the side-effects of cancer chemotherapy and 
chronic nerve damage pain.

A key factor slowing the pace of the so-called "green rush" is 
minimal trial data and the medical profession's limited experience 
with a banned drug.

As such, side-effects and the long-term impact of therapeutic use are 
not fully known, with some doctors cautioning against making the herb 
legally available without completed trials and high quality control standards.

Many caregivers fear a legalised drug may arrive too late for their 
sick family members.

Cheri O'Connell, whose epileptic daughter and son are experiencing a 
new lease on life since taking medicinal cannabis, is calling for an 
amnesty from prosecution for all current users.

She is also worried government trials are being limited to certain 
types of cannabinoids that leave other products - such as the one her 
children use - outside the law.

"We've got something that works," Ms O'Connell said. "Just because 
it's cannabis doesn't mean it's all the same."

- -AFP
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom