Tag Archives: smoking

Answering objections to natural medicinal cannabis

OPPONENTS of patients being able to medicate with natural herbal cannabis, including our own Ministry of Health, can no longer ignore its medical effectiveness. Instead, they deny relief to seriously ill people by hiding behind smokescreens and circular arguments. CHRIS FOWLIE explains.

The Ministry of Health supports allowing the cannabis-extract Sativex. This in itself is not a bad thing. Sativex is, after all, a natural extract made from whole cannabis. Its genetics are based on quality Sensi Seed Bank stock. But it’s not yet available in New Zealand – and it’s not for everyone. Sativex has a fixed ratio of just two cannabinoids, whereas the variety of cannabis strains allow patients to pick and choose to match strains to symptoms. And Sativex is expensive – an estimated cost of $150-$300 per week, with no sign Pharmac will offer any funding.

Smoking

Objectors to herbal cannabis say smoking anything must be bad. That assumes all smoke is smoke, but cannabis smoke is different: for a start, it contains THC, a powerful antioxidant with tumour-fighting abilities. THC kick-starts the lung’s immune response, and clears the lungs. Several large-scale studies have thus found cannabis-only smokers to be more healthy than even non-smokers!

Next they talk about cannabis smokers taking deep breaths and holding it in longer. But it is the vastly-inflated value caused by its illegal status that forces tokers to maximise the bang for their buck. If cannabis cost the same as tobacco ($20 per ounce including taxes), we’d see a more relaxed smoking style.

Even if we accept anti-smoking arguments, herbal cannabis does not have to be smoked. Patients can avoid smoke entirely by growing cannabis and turning it into foods, drinks or tinctures, or even skin creams or massage oils. They can use a vaporiser to get the instant effect and dose control of inhalation without any smoke at all.

Standard dosages

The next objection that is usually raised is that there can be no standardisation or dosage control with herbal cannabis. But smoking actually provides patients with very precise dosage control, due to the instant onset of effects. Furthermore, baked foods, drinks, candies, chocolates, elixirs and tinctures can all be easily made to a standard recipe that delivers a product of known strength. Anyone who can follow a recipe can do it. For larger-scale production, places overseas have
met patient need by licensing community groups, pharmacies or local companies to produce natural extracts or tinctures of known strength. The Dutch licensed several companies to provide standardised natural cannabis to pharmacies there. The varieties all have fixed and known quantities of active ingredients and are sterilised to be free of mould or fungus. It is that not hard to do, and could easily be done here.

Home invasions

Finally, those who object to herbal medicinal cannabis eventually say that allowing patients to grow their own would expose them to risk of robbery or home invasion, acknowledging that the current drug law creates crime and violence. Regardless, many patients are already growing their own, but are denied any protection. If their medicine is stolen they can’t go to the police. Patients are forced to engage with the illicit market and the risks that go with that. Places overseas that allow patients to grow their own or nominate someone else to do it for them have not noted increased violence of thefts from patients. To the contrary, allowing patients to grow their own is the best way to safely meet their needs.

(NORML News Autumn 2008)

Coroner’s support for War on Drugs wrong, say health professionals

BY CHRIS FOWLIE

A coroner’s call to escalate the “War on Drugs” received a lot of media coverage, but was condemned by health professionals including the Drug Foundation and the Public Health Association.

In calling for a return to “just say no” education, Wellington coroner Garry Evans had ignored best practice and a wealth of international evidence in his attack on the current policy of harm minimisation, said the Drug Foundation.

“It sounds really sensible to take a tough approach … but what that ignores is the reality of human nature,” said New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell. “Human beings have been finding ways of altering their state of mind for thousands of years. In spite all of that law enforcement people are still using drugs.”

“The drug-war approach has seen drug use rise significantly for 20 years in the US, while it locks away more citizens than any other developed nation. New Zealand per capita sits second in that statistic; we need policies that ensure we at least rise no higher.”

Mr Bell also questioned whether the coroner’s recommendations can be supported by his findings into the deaths of six young people.

“Mr Evans has drawn a very long bow by recommending a major overhaul of New Zealand’s drug policy and education based on the findings of six tragic deaths from gas inhaling. Indeed, his recommendation for a national drug education campaign ignores all the evidence about how to most effectively deal with inhalant abuse, which actually warns against publicising the issue because it can lead to increased inhalant abuse.”

Bugger the evidence though, coroner Evans says the current official policy of harm minimisation, which accepts that people will take drugs and tries to make it safer, just sends the wrong message. Evans cited unpublished research from Prof Richard Beasley of Wellington’s Medical Research Institute, who has been trying to see if smoking cannabis causes lung cancer. The study is incomplete and has not been peer reviewed, but Beasley speculated that because Maori have higher rates of lung cancer than non-Maori, and because Maori smoke cannabis at a higher rate, that cannabis could be the cause. This was widely reported in the media as evidence that cannabis may cause cancer. But official statistics show Maori smoke cannabis at only a slightly higher rate: 20% are current users, compared to 18% of the total sample.

In his paper, Beasley cited old research by Donald Tashkin of the USA, whose research into lung damage is often cited by drug prohibitionists. Beasley was, however, unaware of more recent research by Tashkin, which was reported in the Winter 2005 issue of Norml News. Marijuana smokers were found to have a lower rate of lung cancer than even nonsmokers. Tashkin found that marijuana is less carcinogenic than tobacco smoke and may even have some anticancer properties.

Robert Melamede, chair of biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, recently published a review of studies in the Oct. 17 issue of Harm Reduction Journal. He found that although cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke are chemically very similar, the cancer-promoting effects of smoke are increased by nicotine, while they are reduced by THC.

Anti-drug zealots Pauline Gardiner and Trevor Grice rallied round in support of Evans. Gardiner – who once said that “we’d be better off if all dope-smokers died, because then the state wouldn’t have to support them” – was proposed by Grice to be NZ’s first “drug czar”, in charge of all drug policy and enforcement. Mr Evan’s recommendations had included using specialists – such as Gardiner and Grice – to deliver drug education in schools.

However, the PHA’s Dr Keating says that evidence suggests that school drug education programmes should be taught by teachers, and there is a “question mark over the effectiveness of programmes delivered by outside agencies”.

“At the moment we have the bizarre situation of organisations like the Life Education Trust going into schools and offering programmes that include smoking prevention, even through the Trust receives funding from British American Tobacco. We should be asking why it is that tobacco manufacturers are so keen to support youth smoking prevention programmes. Could it be because they know they certain types of programmes don’t work?.”

(Norml News Summer 2006)