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Heather Stokes: South Australia needs to change its laws to recognise the medical benefits of cannab

South Australia needs to change its laws to recognise the medical benefits of cannabis oil, writes Heather Stokes. THE police raid on the home of my client Jenny Hallam for allegedly providing medicinal cannabis has triggered an intense debate about existing laws surrounding the therapeutic use of marijuana — and whether they need to be reviewed. There is literature to suggest that historically, cannabis has been used at least in the East for perhaps thousands of years as a therapeutic medication. Whether or not that is so, there is now much scientific evidence to suggest that cannabis has medical health benefits. Some years ago, science learnt there were specific targets for cannabinoids (chemicals in the cannabis plant) and those targets were closely aligned with a large number of systems that involved mood, but also other things as well such as muscle control, pain, epilepsy, side effects of chemotherapy, and treatment for cancer, to give some of the more well-known examples. There has been considerable discussion in the media highlighting the personal stories of individuals, either as direct recipients or as parents of the direct recipients of cannabis oil, that considerable benefits have been obtained from the use of it. Part of the dilemma is that though the Federal Government legislated to allow for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, it was up to the states to pass individual legislation. South Australia has been recalcitrant — it’s not the only one — in not taking any sensible action. This is different from the approach in Victoria and NSW, to give the two best examples. In 2014, the District Court heard expert evidence about the medicinal use of cannabis and the treatment of chronic pain. The court was told it was scientifically accepted that cannabis helped chronic pain, particularly if standard medications available over the chemist counter were not effective. People suffering long-term pain and using morphine-based drugs for relief have found the opiate becomes less effective and may even actually cause pain if used in high doses for long periods. There are few alternatives when that occurs. One of them is cannabis. Marijuana is not only cannabis sativa (which has a higher content of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) but other subspecies, including Cannabis indica. This has lower levels of THC and higher levels of another cannabinoid called CBD (cannabidiol). THC and CBD are not the only chemicals within the cannabis plant. It is important to note that there are receptors in the human body that link to or receive CBD as well as THC and the other chemicals. One might ask if they are there by accident or whether by design. Cannabis oil is the preferred method of medicinal use. There are different types of oil that can be made. One of them is a cannabis-infused coconut oil which seems to work best where anti-inflammatory or antispasmodic results are required. The coconut-based oil is effective for epilepsy, pain and auto immune diseases. Other benefits are likely for depression, anxiety and narcolepsy. It has moderate levels of CBD and low levels of THC. The coconut oil contains itself fatty acids called triglycerides which, in this case, are medium length. Medium chain triglycerides go directly to the liver from the digestive track where they turn into ketone bodies. These seem to have an effect on brain disorders like epilepsy and perhaps alzheimer’s disease. Another cannabis oil extracted using different chemicals and equipment (and includes medical grade alcohol). The product is strained, filtered and cooked off to evaporate the alcohol and activate the THC. This oil is useful for cancer, pain and other conditions. It has higher levels of THC than the coconut oil. Arguably the most effective cannabis oil for therapeutic use is made by using all cannabinoids together. For example, one internet search suggests that another cannabinoid (CBN) is just as effective as CBD. Where prescribed medications are not effective or inadequate, cannabis oil may not be the saviour for everybody but it has an outstanding place in medical treatment. Heather Stokes is a criminal barrister in Adelaide

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