Victorian bowel cancer patient charged with cultivating cannabis
A Victorian grandmother is set to face court charged with cultivation and possession of cannabis after she said she was using the narcotic to treat her stage-three bowel cancer.
Alice Burns said a lack of affordable medicinal cannabis led to her decision to grow her own cannabis, which she then used to make cannabis oil.
The 54-year-old was arrested and charged in June, after a police tip-off led to a search of her home in regional Victoria's Otway Ranges.
"The local policeman knew that I had cancer and had been using it for that. I admitted to everything. I said it was all mine, but they still charged my partner, who is also my carer, too," Ms Burns told nine.com.au.
When Ms Burns was diagnosed in January this year, she had a tumour in her colon and the cancer had spread to surrounding lymph nodes. (Supplied)
The pair will face Colac Magistrates' Court in January where Ms Burns said she planned to fight the charges under common law rights.
"I feel like I am really being discriminated against here. It should be my right to choose how I treat my cancer," she said.
Ms Burns' legal case comes as demand for medicinal cannabis is skyrocketing.
Last month alone, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved 2919 medicinal cannabis scripts, more than two-and-a half times the number processed six months ago.
It also comes a month after the ACT government controversially passed legislation legalising the possessing, smoking and growing of small amounts of cannabis - a move the Federal Government has objected to.
From early next year, adults in Canberra will be able to possess up to 50 grams of dry cannabis and grow two plants.
'WITHIN TWO WEEKS … I COULD SIT AGAIN'
Ms Burns was diagnosed with bowel cancer in January, after going to see the doctor about her extremely painful haemorrhoids.
"I thought I was just dealing with piles. I went to the doctor and said I want a stronger cream, the supermarket cream isn't strong enough," she said.
"And that's when he stepped in and said there is something else going on here."
Ms Burns underwent chemotherapy and radiation as part of her treatment. In August, she had surgery to remove the lower part of her colon and was fitted with a permanent colostomy bag.
Before her chemotherapy began, Ms Burns made the decision to try cannabis oil after researching about its benefits for cancer patients online.
The effect of the oil was almost immediate, she said.
"Within two weeks of being on the oil, I could sit again. It just took all the inflammation down. It was amazing the difference it made."
"I know my pain dropped dramatically. I was able to cut out a lot of painkillers. I didn't need Endone during the day."
Ms Burns, pictured before her cancer diagnosis. (Supplied)
Ms Burns said cost was a major barrier to buying medicinal cannabis legally through the current medical system.
With the help of her doctor, Ms Burns said she had tried to apply for a hospital trial of medicinal cannabis, but there was told there were no current trials suitable for her.
The mother-of-three estimated she would be paying about $1500 a month for cannabis oil bought with a prescription.
Getting cannabis oil on the black market was a much cheaper option, Ms Burns said and was the first method she used to buy the drug.
However, even buying medicinal cannabis on the black market was financially unsustainable in the long term, she said.
Ms Burns estimated she spent $10,000 sourcing medicinal cannabis on the black market since her diagnosis in January, before coming up with the solution to grow her own and then make the oil.
"The cost is amazing. I have emptied out my bank account," she told nine.com.au.
"You need to be able to look after yourself and you can't afford to be buying it on the black market."
Ms Burns said while she knew both buying cannabis on the black market and growing her own was illegal, she had no regrets about what she had done.
"I came at it from a moral and ethical angle – I am just trying to treat myself. I don't think this is an issue for the courts. It's a medical issue."
Ms Burns said she was had been excited to read about studies investigating the potential for cannabis to treat cancer cells.
After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, Ms Burns said scans had shown her tumour had shrunk and the cancer cells had disappeared from her lymph nodes.
Although her doctor said there was no evidence to suggest that the medicinal cannabis had played a part in the results, Ms Burns said she was hopeful it had.
Ms Burns said she would have preferred to wait to have her surgery, which had left her with a colostomy bag for life, and use scans to see if further use of medicinal cannabis kept her cancer at bay, but the arrest had taken the choice from her.
"The end result is they took away my choice of how to treat myself, I had to do the surgery. I did't have a back up option of keeping on the oil and then seeing the results," she said.
VAST MAJORITY TAKING MEDICINAL CANNABIS ILLEGALLY
Iain McGregor is the director of Sydney University's Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics.
Professor McGregor said studies of the effects of cannabis products on rats and mice had shown promising results when it came killing cancer cells and stopping them spreading. However, the evidence for treating cancer in humans was still lacking.
"We are in that odd situation where there are millions of people around the world who are using cannabis products to try and eradicate their cancer, but we basically don't have one good quality clinical trial yet of medicinal cannabis and cancer for the purpose of actually getting rid of the cancer.
"We are kind of waiting for these clinical trials to validate what we already know from studies in rats and mice and in cancer cells."
However, when it came to treating pain, induced vomiting from chemotherapy and quality of life for cancer patients, the benefits had been well documented, Prof. McGregor said.
"If there is one thing the literature is telling us at the moment is that regardless of whether your cancer disappears, there seems to be an ability of medicinal cannabis to help with pain, help with appetite and also just help people come to terms with their condition and make them much more comfortable in life," he said.
When it came to how patients accessed medicinal cannabis, it appeared the vast majority of patients were still using illicit means, he said.
Ms Burns will face court in January over the charges. (Supplied)
In a 2019 survey conducted by The Lambert of 900 Australians with inflammatory bowel disease, 25 percent were using medicinal cannabis to self-medicate. Of those, only the three out of 212 were doing so legally, Prof. McGregor said.
Another recent survey Australians using medicinal cannabis to treat a variety of conditions found only 25 out of more than 1300 were "getting the official stuff", he added.
The two major deterrents to using medicinal cannabis legally were the difficulties of finding a doctor to apply to the TGA on their behalf, and the cost of medicinal cannabis, which averaged about $10,000-$20,000 per year, he said.
Meanwhile, Ms Burns said she was still trying to find a lawyer to represent her and her partner in court in January.
She has also started an online petition to gather support for their charges to be dropped. Originally published here: https://www.9news.com.au/national/medicinal-cannabis-victorian-bowel-cancer-patient-charged-with-cultivating-cannabis-for-her-treatment/770dd532-74bd-4d8e-a347-270a4070cded