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Insight: Pressure builds for legal cannabis to ease the pain

Andrew and Marilyn Irving are leading the call to legalise medicinal cannabis is Tasmania.

THERE were days when the pain was unbearable.

Struck down by a degenerative nerve condition, Marilyn Irving’s body would be racked by spasms so violent she was physically spent and struggled to breathe.

Her husband Andrew was desperate to find a solution and turned to medicinal cannabis — said to have strong pain relief qualities, but illegal in Tasmania.

The Hobart area couple say a regular regimen of taking medicinal cannabis oil drops has been life-changing.

The spasms have stopped, Marilyn is sleeping well and gaining strength.

“My wife is a living example of the benefits of this natural drug,” Mr Irving tells the Sunday Tasmanian. “We are not criminals — we have the right to use medication that works. ”Tasmania’s peak medical body acknowledges anecdotal evidence of cannabis being useful in pain relief and helping to treat illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and cancer. The public debate about legalising the drug for medicinal purposes is escalating.However, Australian Medical Association Tasmanian president Tim Greenaway says more research is needed before the association could support any widespread prescription of cannabis. “When all drugs are developed, very careful trials are conducted before any mass rollout,” Dr Greenaway said. The medical fraternity also has concerns about how a doctor would accurately prescribe medicinal cannabis for a patient. My wife is a living example of the benefits of this natural drug. – Andrew Irving “There is no standard dose of cannabis — it’s trial and error. Each plant can provide drug doses hugely different — so smoking it one time may work, another time it may fail and another time it may make you sick,” University of Newcastle’s Professor Nick Talley said. The Australian Medical Association supports the current trials being undertaken in NSW and Victoria and will look closely at the results. Dr Greenaway said research should be conducted in Tasmania as well. In Hobart last Wednesday, a forum organised by the Labor Party was told there was an unstoppable momentum growing around Australian for legislative change to cannabis. The audience, made up of users and suppliers of medicinal cannabis products, expressed frustration at how long the process was taking.As delays continue, normally law-abiding citizens were turning to the black market to get relief, the forum heard. The Victorian Government has pledged to set up an Office of Medicinal Cannabis by the end of the year to oversee research, development and the dispensing of cannabis products. The Victorian model is expected to see the drug being dispensed through pharmacies to patients with a prescription from a medical specialist. Members of the public would be forbidden from growing their own cannabis plants and a licence system, similar to the poppy industry, would be established to govern cannabis growers. At the Hobart forum there was a clear tension between the push for a safe, government-regulated supply of cannabis-based medicines and people’s desire to grow their own for medicinal use. Federal Labor assistant health minister Stephen Jones said a national framework would be better than states going it alone, to avoid inconsistencies across borders.

Increasing numbers of Tasmanians suffering from chronic illness or pain are finding relief through the use of medicinal cannabis. But, in doing so, people such as Marilyn and Andrew Irving are breaking the law.

Australian Medicinal Cannabis (AusCann) has been hampered by red tape in its attempts to grow a trial crop on Norfolk Island.

AusCann managing director Elaine Darby hopes the Regulation of Medicinal Cannabis Bill, which would establish a body to provide licences and regulate supply of medicinal cannabis products, will pass through federal Parliament.

“It appears to have bipartisan support and we hope it is passed by the end of the year,” Ms Darby said.

“Of course then individual states would have to pass legislation to allow medicinal cannabis to be grown and used in their communities, but we could move ahead in territories like the Norfolk Island and Christmas Island.

“Hopefully what has happened in Victoria will spur Canberra on. It really is time for change.

“In the interim we will continue research and development work with the Murdoch University in Perth.”

Tasmanian Health Minister Michael Ferguson says the Government remains committed to a national, science-based and compassionate approach to the medical use of cannabis-defined products.

Mr Ferguson said a meeting was held in Hobart last month between NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O’Kane, who is in charge of the NSW cannabis trial, and senior representatives of Tasmania’s Health Department.

“The meeting explored ways Tasmania can be involved in the trials in NSW. This is a co-operative, evidence-based approach consistent with the recom-mendations of the Legislative Council inquiry into this issue,” Mr Ferguson said.

How long it will take to decide if Tasmanian legislation will be changed is still unclear.

A Burnie man told the Sunday Tasmanian he had turned to cannabis oil after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in August last year.

He imported the oil from interstate at a cost of $1200 a month.

“I would use a syringe and squeeze a dose about the size of a grain of rice on my finger and rub it around my cheeks so it was quickly absorbed into the bloodstream,” he said.

In October, the 57-year-old was in hospital in Melbourne being tested before receiving chemotherapy treatment for his cancer.

To his surprise, and that of his specialists, the cancerous tumour had disappeared.

He said the specialists would not entertain the thought that the use of cannabis oil was behind his remarkable recovery.

“They called it spontaneous remission but acknowledged they had never seen it happen before,” he said.

The man said he did not feel comfortable speaking openly about the issue because the use and possession of cannabis was still illegal in Tasmania and he was about to start a new job.

“We grow opium here which is manufactured into highly addictive drugs, yet using this herb that has grown on this planet for millions of years to treat yourself is illegal,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Tasmania Police said the possession and personal use of any cannabis product was illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

“Any form of illegal activity cannot be condoned by police. However, the active pursuit of people who reasonably claim to be taking cannabis products for medical purposes is not an operational priority for Tasmania Police,” Acting Commissioner Scott Tilyard said.

Brave mother leads the charge

Ulverstone mum Natalie Daley with husband Roger and children Branden, 11, left, Mia, 8, and Cooper, 5, says using medicinal cannabis has brought much relief in her fight against cancer.

USERS of medicinal cannabis are often reluctant to speak about their cases.

Cannabis remains an illegal product, regardless of its use, and people taking it to ease pain or control medical symptoms fear for their career and their reputation if they speak up.

Natalie Daley, of Ulverstone, and Andrew Irving, of Dromedary, have become advocates for the push to legalise medicinal cannabis in Tasmania because they are brave enough to put themselves forward.

Mrs Daley, a mother of three, is living with adrenal gland carcinoma that has now moved to her lungs. She says her appetite and energy — sapped by chemotherapy treatments — has returned since she started taking cannabis oil capsules.

Mrs Daley received hundreds of messages of support when she started a petition last year to lobby the State Government to legalise the use of cannabis for medical reasons.

“There is a groundswell of public support now and I have a good feeling about it,” Mrs Daley said.

“There is a lot of evidence out there and I have heard so many stories about how cannabis has helped people but people have been too scared to speak out. I was too, but we need to be a voice for change.”

Andrew and Marilyn Irving have also spoken publicly about the benefits cannabis has provided as Mrs Irving battles a degenerative nerve condition.

Mrs Irving’s condition continues to improve and Mr Irving is about to start distributing a newsletter on medicinal cannabis to educate others in the community.

“I am glad to be part of this campaign and am a strong advocate,” he said.

“Since speaking out I have received at least one phone call a week from others wanting to know how cannabis might be able to help them or a loved one.”

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