Your perception of the typical marijuana user will change very soon.
When people think of marijuana users the image that comes to mind is usually of a guy who smokes bongs all day long, munches on easy-mac and choc-chip cookies, and walks the streets barefoot with his dreads falling down his back. But now that the NSW State Government has approved the start of medical marijuana trials, we can see marijuana isn’t just used (or needed) by hippies, deadbeats and Nimbin locals. NSW is getting closer to legalising the use of Cannabis – medical or not – within the state.
Medical marijuana comes in several forms, not just the typical smoke from a homemade gatorade bottle bong that most would associate pot with. It can be smoked in a cigarette or taken in pill form, which ultimately decreases health risks that comes with smoking. Also, medical marijuana is very different to the stuff you can get off your sketchy local drug dealer. One major difference is that you know where you’re getting the drug from. For example, in Canada, when someone legally buys medical marijuana they know the quality of the marijuana is consistent, because it is controlled by Health Canada. When you buy your buds off the street you can’t be certain where it has originated from, or if the quality is the same as the last joint you lit up.
Another major difference between medical marijuana and street marijuana is the effects the user is chasing. Medical marijuana isn’t generally used to achieve the drug’s psychoactive effects, meaning you don’t get high, man. Individuals using marijuana for medical purposes are trying to modify particular symptoms of their illness and they usually use a milder batch of cannabis. In the Medical Journal of Australia it states, “Reviews of medicinal cannabis used under essentially controlled conditions indicate that the frequencies of both side effects and dependence are low. One specific review of side effects reported that they were modest, with only 10 per cent of patients choosing to discontinue their treatment.”
Side effects of medical marijuana are a lot like the effects caused by the street stuff, including a dry mouth or thirst, hunger (munchies), red eyes, short-term memory loss, uneasiness and anxiety. For sufferers of chronic pain, AIDS, Arthritis, Epilepsy and seizures, or even migraines, do the positives outweigh these side effects?
There are many arguments around the use of medical marijuana. Opponents of the medical use of cannabis argue that it is dangerous, addictive, acts as a gateway drug, interferes with women’s fertility, impairs an individual’s driving ability, and injures the lungs, immune system and brain. Non-supporters believe that medical marijuana acts as a leader in the legalisation of recreational drug use.
In July 2014, Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), called upon the federal government to step up its strategy to reduce marijuana use and its consequences. This group is made up of American doctors, lawyers, treatment providers, teachers, law enforcement officers and other individuals who want to stop the creation of another big tobacco-like industry that profits from addiction.
In a report posted on the organisation’s website, the consequences of Colorado’s legalisation of medical marijuana was noted. “The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area has been dedicated to tracking the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado – and the findings aren’t pretty,” said the post.
“Since the commercialisation of medical marijuana in 2009, use levels have risen, as have other problems. Legalisation only has compounded the issues.”
Problems that have appeared since legalisation include, impaired driving, an increase of youth and adult marijuana use, and hospitalisations related to marijuana saw an increase of 82 per cent from 2008 to 2013. Individuals from Australia may look to these consequences and believe the same thing will happen in our own country.
However, in the medical world at least, organisations such as the Cancer Council and MS Australia are pro-medical marijuana, saying it’s a substance that can help at least one in five Australians – including adolescents and children – who live with chronic pain and many other Australians living with illness. Unlike other medicines there has never been a reported death from overdose of cannabis use.
Supporters of medical marijuana argue it is a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, among others. In their statement regarding the medical use of cannabis in November 2012, the Cancer Council acknowledged that, “cannabis may be of medical benefit to cancer patients where conventional treatments are unsuccessful”. They state that smoking is the more harmful way of taking cannabis and that synthetic products are better. Consumed via oral spray, synthetic cannabis offers, “advantages in providing symptom relief without unwanted psychological or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) related effects.”
Even the leader of our country is pro-medical marijuana, so much so he believes it should skip the medical trials. Prime Minister, Tony Abbott said in a letter to radio host Alan Jones he had no problem with the medical use of cannabis, and if a drug is safely administered it shouldn’t be a problem. “My basic contention is that something that has been found to be safe in a reliable jurisdiction shouldn’t need to be tested again here.”
NSW Premiere Mike Baird agrees it’s time medical marijuana is introduced. “I say at the same time, we want to give the terminally ill and those around them, their carers, their family, greater peace of mind. We also want to ensure that carers aren’t forced to watch their loved ones suffer when their pain can be alleviated.”
It was difficult to locate any opponents to the introduction of medical marijuana, with almost two thirds of Australians supporting the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes, according to a ReachTel survey of more than 3400 Australians. The majority of people surveyed backed medical marijuana, with support highest among 51 to 65 year olds. Although, some medical experts say there are alternatives to medical marijuana that are better. These include opiates such as oxycontin and endone, which are regarded as a type of pharmaceutical heroin. The concern with these alternatives is that, while legal, they are just as addictive as marijuana, hence the need for the NSW Opioid Treatment Program (OTP). The program provides opioid replacement therapy for people who are dependent on opioids such as, medical grade heroin, morphine and oxycodone.
Lee Davelaar, the National Communications Manager for MS Australia, believes the public is missing the point regarding medical marijuana – that it could offer a lifeline for people suffering a number of different types of illnesses. “It is also important to ensure the debate is not simplified to a discussion about access to medical marijuana but rather, the potential applications of cannabis-derivate treatments,” Mr Davelaar explained to The Newsroom.
“There is a cannabis-derived treatment called Sativex that has been deemed safe and effective by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Association for use in people with MS. Sativex is a mouth spray that assists people to manage muscle spasticity and motor control, and MS Australia would welcome Sativex being made available in Australia if regulations regarding access to cannabis-derived products were to change.”
In American states where the medical use of marijuana is legal as a treatment for epilepsy, there were a number of people living with the illness who reported benefits in using the substance. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, this included a decrease in seizure activity when using a marijuana strain high in cannabidiol, which is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana (no high). The foundation went on to say in a statement they support the legalisation that would allow people living with epilepsy and any type of uncontrolled seizures to have access to this alternate treatment option.
This debate will always continue, partly because the use of illicit and legal drugs will always be a continued topic of discussion. For now, NSW will trial the use of medical marijuana. Perhaps Tony Abbott could turn his campaign slogan to “Two Toke Tony”? – Alana Scott
Top photo from Mark’s Flickr photostream.