Is it high time that medicinal marijuana use is decriminalised?

By: Samantha Thorne, MedicalSearch reporter
24 July, 2015

In June 2015, we learned that the NSW government would be committing $9 million over four years to trial the efficacy of medicinal cannabis for children with severe epilepsy, terminally-ill adults, and chemotherapy patients suffering from persistent nausea and vomiting.

The trials are part of a $1 billion allocation to fund the next generation of medical research in the hopes of discovering new treatments which may offer hope to sufferers..

Medicinal marijuana continues to be illegal in Australia; and the extreme views put forward about its possible decriminalisation, and the ensuing debate, are nothing short of intense.

Those who back medicinal marijuana believe Australia is completely behind the times and see prohibition as a rein on freedom of choice, whilst advocates for its decriminalisation have stepped forward from many sectors of Australian society to show their support.

Seasoned journalist Helen Kapolos borrowed $80,000 to produce a documentary exploring the benefits of marijuana use for the ill. While undertaking research for her documentary, Helen Kapolos noted that she had a hard time finding any interviewees who had not experienced a positive response to the drug.

She is of the belief that if prepared under proper conditions and from reliable sources, the drug can have overwhelming benefits for some sick people.

The Haslam family were thrust into the national spotlight in 2014 when they went public with the story of their son Luke (now deceased) who used medicinal marijuana to deal with the unrelenting nausea and lack of appetite he experienced while undertaking chemotherapy for bowel cancer.

NSW Premier Mike Baird referred to Haslam as 'an inspiration,' and it was his circumstance and experience with medicinal marijuana that softened Baird's stance towards its use for medical purposes.

"I will never forget the look in his eyes the first time I met him and it will stay with me forever.

"Dan made a lasting impression on everyone he met, but, more than that, he left a legacy in NSW that will be felt across the nation, and I believe the world," said Baird.

Conservatives assert that cannabis is dangerous and highly addictive, and any relaxation of prohibition is a recipe for disaster. Various studies have shown significant social, behavioural, and mental problems associated with the frequent use of cannabis by young people aged 15-25 years.

On the other hand, advocates of medicinal marijuana can also refer to a slew of clinical studies which support their cause. Perhaps medicinal marijuana couldn't hurt, it seems to be showing promise for ill patients and research has indicated it is less addictive than other drugs; on a scale of addictiveness from 0-3, research rated heroin at 3, tobacco at 1.8, alcohol at 1.6, and cannabis at 0.8.

There is also scientific evidence that marijuana not only relieves symptoms, but can also have positive effects on the actual disease. In November 2014, scientific researchers from St George's University of London published their results from a study on brain tumours in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

Their findings revealed that the most effective treatment was to combine active chemical elements of cannabis plants, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), with irradiation. The scientists found that a combination of THC and CBD, in conjunction with radiation treatment, could actually slow the growth of and shrink brain tumours.

For now, the trials are to be conducted by the NSW Government, with the first being open to children with severe and drug-resistant epilepsy. This has sparked the interest of other state governments and an agreement has been signed allowing Victorians and Queenslanders who meet the eligibility criteria to participate in the trial.

This is good news for parents of children with severe epilepsy who have tried cannabis illegally, found it beneficial, and want it legalised so they don't have to break the law. Take Cheri O'Connell's story, the mother of Tara, a young child suffering from severe epilepsy who, at her worst, was having up to 60 seizures per day.

O'Connell spoke about her daughter's condition with the Herald Sun: "She was dying, she could barely walk or talk, was unable to toilet herself and slept a similar cycle to a newborn.

Tara's epilepsy improved dramatically after her parents gave her a liquid cannabis mix made in Nimbin, NSW.

O'Connell stated that the family had nothing to lose, given that the consequence of not trying medicinal marijuana was death.

Australians suffering from burdensome pain are hoping for legislative approval without having to wait for completion of clinical trials, whilst around the world, about 20 countries have legalised the use of medicinal cannabis, along with about 20 states in the USA - is it time for it to be decriminalised in Australia too?