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Australia cautiously enters medical marijuana market

Miller, who was drawn to the industry after researching alternatives for his seriously-ill mother, says unlocking the local market requires easing patient access and educating doctors.

But not at the expense of the pharmaceutical industry’s integrity.

“Any new products that are going to be distributed to a large number of patients need to go through the same mechanism that any other drug would go through, and cannabis is no different,” he says.

Doctors acknowledge the plant’s potential in palliative care, epilepsy and spasticity but remain guarded in its broader use, citing limited scientific proof.

“It’s been around since pre-history and if it was the panacea for a whole range of medical conditions it was claimed to be by some advocates, then we would have been using it for a long period of time,” says Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon.

– ‘Pretty angry pretty quickly’-

But for many, change is too slow.

Arielle Harding had her first epileptic seizure at 15-months-old. Suffering from about 100 a day, treatment with traditional drugs made things worse.

Her desperate parents recently tried small doses of Cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive marijuana derivative in liquid form and Arielle, now five, shows few signs of her condition.

“At first we were just overjoyed that that had happened but you also find that you get pretty angry pretty quickly, when you realise that we could have had this three years ago and what a difference that would that have made,” her father Tim recalls.

The legal CBD oil he purchases is not an elixir, but like thousands seeking cannabis treatment in Australia, Harding says he is unable to explore the drug further for fear of breaking complicated laws.

A 2015 Roy Morgan poll found more than 90 percent of Australians support legalising marijuana for the seriously ill, but advocates say it struggles for recognition because of its “demonised” past.

“It is really important to realise that you can get the medicinal benefits from cannabinoids without necessarily being intoxicated,” says Iain McGregor, academic director at the University of Sydney’s cannabis research hub.

“We can actually pull apart the intoxicating recreational effects from the therapeutic effects, and again that allows doctors to prescribe with more confidence if it is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid.”

As attitudes change, encouraging more research, McGregor is optimistic about the plant’s potential “to produce incredible therapeutics for a whole range of diseases that are currently very difficult to treat”.

One comment

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