In early January, the Health minister Greg Hunt announced that the Federal government in Australia will be introducing legislation which will hopefully assist the Australian medical cannabis industry to become a major exporter of therapeutic products. Soon after the announcement, I was interviewed on ABC radio and I made the following points.
Firstly, at present a number of cultivation licenses have been allocated to various companies and groups but to date, no group is producing medical grade cannabis in Australia which is even available to the Australian market. Secondly, currently all legal medical cannabis products are being imported from overseas with the average price to the consumer being around $1500 per month. Thirdly, I am on the board of a medical cannabis company, MGC pharmaceuticals and we will very soon be making available a medical cannabis product for epilepsy, CannEpil which will be about half the price but still quite expensive for the average consumer. Finally, I made the point that it is still quite difficult for people to obtain medical cannabis in Australia with the rather laborious special access scheme and the limited amount of authorised prescribers, not to forget the aforementioned prohibitive pricing.
During the interview, I also made the distinction between illegal, smoked, recreational marijuana and medical cannabis. It is my view that illegal marijuana should stay illegal purely because there are a number of well performed scientific studies suggesting significant neuropsychiatric issues from the long-term use of marijuana because of the high level of THC in a smoked joint. This high level varies somewhere between 5–25%. Although medical cannabis comes from the same plant species, it is a different genetic variety that produces different proportions of CBD and THC and thus has minimal psychotropic effects, unlike illegal marijuana. Soon after my interview, some ill-informed people, clearly pushing their own agenda who are deluded into believing that smoked marijuana is harmless and clearly want to continue illegally growing their own marijuana, came out and openly criticised me on Facebook accusing me from ignorance up to insider trading because of my association with MGC pharmaceuticals.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I heard a separate interview on radio 2GB (I do have a working association with the Macquarie radio network of which 2GB is a key station) where a pain management expert expressed great concerns about the use of medical cannabis suggesting that the studies to date were poor and/or anecdotal. The pain management expert clearly has not reviewed the literature, including a relatively recent randomised controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing clearly that medical cannabis significantly reduces breakthrough seizures in children with severe childhood epilepsy. He is also ignoring many good studies performed in people with cancer, associated issues and multiple sclerosis. I agree that the work in chronic pain management is not particularly robust at present but randomised controlled trials are commencing all over the world for this condition. I was surprised to hear that the pain management expert did not mention the enormous problems in our society from prescription narcotics and the fact that there are now more deaths every year in Australia from the use & abuse of prescription narcotics than there are from heroin overdose. Clearly, we have a problem with pain management that needs to be addressed and hopefully medical cannabis will be one of the solutions.
Thus, we have one group of individuals who want to push their own agenda and have marijuana legalised, ignoring the multiple studies that show the danger from using so-called recreational marijuana and, on the other hand, we have people working within the conservative medical profession who want to maintain the status quo of pain management and ignore potentially more effective therapies.
Any sensible health professional will agree that we need well designed randomised controlled studies that are peer reviewed and published in major journals before we fully embrace any therapy but is also very important to realise that there are many individuals who are suffering because of the inadequacies of our current therapeutic regimens. Surely it is time for a more balanced approach in the area of medical cannabis and hopefully the Federal government will make this entire area more accessible and affordable because at present this is certainly not the case.