Former nurse Lucy Haslam, who organised the Inaugural Medicinal Cannabis Symposium in Tamworth last month, has welcomed NSW Premier Mike Baird’s announcement on December 21 that up to $9 million will be allocated to conduct three or more clinical trials to look into the use of medicinal cannabis for a range of medical conditions.
Premier Baird said the government would set up a Medical Cannabis Expert Panel comprising of leading medical cannabis researchers led by NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant.
“This is a bold plan and one that will utilise the expertise of NSW-based clinicians and researchers and draw on research developments from across the globe,” Mr Baird said.
Mrs Haslam, whose son Daniel was diagnosed with bowel cancer nearly five ago at the age of 20, organised a petition on change.org that attracted 200,000 signatures.
In speaking out publically the distraught mother has instigated groundbreaking decisions from politicians that should bring relief to some seriously and terminally ill people.
Daniel has undergone repeated cycles of chemotherapy and other treatments for his diagnosed stage 4 adenocarcinoma of the bowel as well as major surgeries to remove parts of his bowel and liver. His wife Alyce and parents Lucy and Lou have been a great support.
“Chemo is absolutely awful. It is poison. You get poisoned and it just goes straight into your heart,” Daniel told reporter Helen Kapalos on Channel 7’s Sunday Night in June.
Lou Haslam, a former senior undercover officer with the drug squad, told Kapalos that post treatment his son suffered extreme bouts of sickness and wouldn’t eat for five days. To deal with this and to prevent weight loss they tried everything that mainstream medicine had to offer.
Nothing seemed to work.
Then Mrs Haslam was “fortunate to come across a wonderful man”, Dwone Jones also from Tamworth, who had recently suffered from bowel cancer. He suggested Daniel try cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, to ease his nausea and poor appetite.
Cannabis made a dramatic difference to Daniel according to his family. He would smoke it if he needed quick relief from the side effects of the chemotherapy but would switch to it in a vaporised form if time allowed.
“Nausea and vomiting is relieved very quickly using inhaled methods. A small amount can last for a couple of hours,” she said.
But medical cannabis is not legal in NSW so Mrs Haslam launched a campaign calling for the decriminalisation of marijuana for medical use.
Mr Baird, who has met with Mrs Haslam and Daniel on numerous occasions, said: “I am hopeful the trials will help us to better understand what role medical cannabis can play in alleviating symptoms in seriously ill patients, while the scheme will help to lighten the burden of stress for those suffering.
“Our message to Dan is thank you for your inspiration and leadership on this issue,” he said.
Following the government announcement Mrs Haslam said: “I am incredibly hopeful that cannabis medicines will become a validated and respected treatment option for all manner of serious and debilitating conditions in Australia’s not too distant future.
“Mike Baird has indicated to me personally that he wants NSW to be a world leader in Cannabis Medicine. He has proved to be a statesman who is true to his word and I have no reason to doubt him.”
But Mrs Haslam said she considered Premier Baird’s commitment of significant funding for research and the introduction of the Terminal Illness Cannabis Scheme to protect the seriously ill as just the first step towards a favourable outcome.
The Terminal Illness Cannabis Scheme will provide guidelines for NSW Police to determine when to exercise their discretion not to charge terminally ill adults under the ongoing care of a medical practitioner who use cannabis to alleviate their symptoms, or to charge the carers assisting them.
Tamworth National MP Kevin Anderson was among the first to respond to the call from the Haslem family who live in his electorate. He spoke to Mr Baird on several occasions about introducing a private members bill approving the use of medical cannabis. The NSW government co-operated with Mr Anderson and took the essence of the final draft of his bill on as policy.
A former journalist and news anchor, Mr Anderson said he was privileged to lead the charge for the Haslem family.
“One voice can make a difference and in this case, the Haslams started a campaign that made us all sit up and take notice, a real campaign that brought home what people have been doing for years, terminally ill people who were desperately seeking relief from the debilitating effects of cancer and other serious illnesses, trying to find pain relief and improve their quality of life,” Mr Anderson said.
“We need to show care, compassion and help these people when they need it most. I congratulate and thank the Haslam family for their courage and the people of Tamworth who have rallied behind this push. This is indeed ‘people power’ at work.”
Mrs Haslam said her son no longer needs to inhale cannabis to deal with the side effects of chemotherapy but still uses cannabis oil daily to combat the cancer.
“Many people are having good success even with advanced cancer. It is a little early to tell for Dan,” she said.
Cannabis used as treatment for epilepsy
Health Minister Jillian Skinner said one of the announced trials would concentrate on children with drug resistant epilepsy and would be run in partnership with The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. Both hospitals have established paediatric epilepsy units and contact with national researchers in the field.
“We are fortunate enough to have the Head of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, Dr Deepak Gill from The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and child neurology epilepsy specialist Dr John Lawson from Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick working together on this with their teams,” Mrs Skinner said.
Dr Andrew Katelaris MD is a medical researcher who has been investigating cannabis therapeutics since 1995. Formerly a hospital-based medico he was de-registered in 2005 for continuing this research against the directive of the medical board. His current research interest is in developing better seizure medication.
He is specifically refining the use of cannabis plant varieties that are cannabidiol-dominant. Cannabidiol (CBD) is non-psychoactive, which means it doesn’t leave users “high” in the same way cannabis dominant in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does.
Dr Katelaris has just concluded a trial pilot study using high CBC varieties of cannabis. Twelve epileptic children with intractable forms of the disease took part in the three-month study after all methods of conventional medical treatment had been exhausted. The children were administered an infusion of cannabis in refined coconut oil.
By the time they had finished the trial, the condition of all of the children had improved, with at least 70 per cent experiencing fewer epileptic episodes. Some showed noticeable advances in social interaction and gross motor skills during the trial. The results were very promising, Dr Katelaris said.
“This is the first good news for parents with children afflicted with intractable epilepsy, who till now must suffer not only their affliction, but the severe toxic effects of the ineffective poly pharmacy.”
Other medical uses of cannabis
In other parts of the world doctors are exploring the use of the plant-based remedy as a treatment option for many pathologies, including cancer. Dr Christina Sanchez, a molecular biologist at Compultense University in Spain, has researched the role of endo-cannabinoids and the therapeutic value of cannabinoids in marijuana. Endo-cannabinoids are naturally produced in our bodies and activate the same receptor sites as (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
After treatment with cannabinoid-based medicines cancer cells were “committing suicide” she said. “At this point we have enough pre-clinical evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids may have anti-tumour properties.”
Dr Sanchez said our internal endo-cannabinoids system regulates biological functions including appetite, reproduction, motor function and food intake, one reason the plant has such a wide therapeutic potential. Oncologists, neuro-oncologists and breast specialists in Spain were ready to test compounds in human patients, she said.
But Dr Katelaris advises caution. “It’s early days in the treatment of cancer with cannabis. There is a lot of exaggeration about its success,” he said.
In October 2003 the US government took out patent No# 6,630,507 on cannabinoid compounds in cannabis due to their antioxidants and neuro-protective properties. Some countries such as the Netherlands, Canada, Israel and some American states already allow some use of crude cannabis for medicinal purposes.