Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: A dramatic and unremarkable decision

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  • Katharine Moody,

    Big prayers go out in the hope that it will stop Alex's seizures. And I couldn't agree with you more - I simply cannot imagine what I would have done as his mother - the anguish, stress and frustration would be enormous.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2014 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Bell,

    Perfect summary of the situation, as usual, Russell.

    I think what this case highlighted is that our Medicines Act can work really well, in that the minister has the ability to make these decisions.

    It also shows that, fundamentally, we don't need to change our drug laws to allow medical cannabis (we do need to change laws for lots of other reasons though). All we simply need to do is have a much wider range of medpot products regulated under medicines law (and then have those fully subsidised). This could include for example homegrown equivalents of Bedrocan (who currently cannot maintain a regular supply in the Netherlands or in Canada, let alone importing to NZ).

    [I'm not sure the cannabis reform people protesting outside the hospital and ministry were of much help (on this case or any other TBH).]

    Minister Dunne is showing himself to be very open to this issue now.... he isn't going to come out tomorrow and free the weed, but my goodness he is open to looking at evidence (or at least directs his officials to look at evidence). My sense is that he doesn't want to be left behind as the world moves forward pretty quickly. He talked a lot to other govt folks about medical canabis at a recent UN meeting. And has been very open to meeting patient groups back home... saying recently he would happily reform any laws as necessary if they created barriers - advice from the Ministry is that there are few legal barriers to getting Medpot products approved (including approving NZ-based cultivation for research), but maybe some regulations that could be streamlined.

    Watch this space. But don't expect revolution.

    No comment on the PM's comments.

    Wellington, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 169 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Ross Bell,

    He talked a lot to other govt folks about medical canabis at a recent UN meeting. And has been very open to meeting patient groups back home

    That's reassuringly grown-up behaviour. Cheers.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Ross Bell,

    No comment on the PM’s comments.

    They did a lot motivate me to write this post, though. So there’s that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Sacha,

    That’s reassuringly grown-up behaviour. Cheers.

    My impression is that this may become a disability policy issue beyond MS. There are quite good signs for CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders. Can you imagine how much better that would be that for be for people on the autism spectrum than SSRIs, let alone something like risperidone?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    and the anti-nausea and appetite-promoting properties seem well-supported too.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Foirtunately I have yet to see an anxious stoner (though I know paranoia is an oft-described effect).

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    It seems that Novartis, the licensed distributor for this part of the world, would rather tout its own multiple sclerosis drug.

    FYI, for people with MS, cannabis is used for the treatment of neuropathic pain and/or spasticity. Novartis' drug (Fingolimod) is a disease-modifying drug which reduces the incidences of relapses in people with that type of MS. Basically, the two treatments are for two totally different types of MS issues and one is not a substitute for another.

    But yeah, the more Pharmac-funded treatment options that are available to people with MS, the better.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Again, if anyone hasn't seen it yet, Druglawed has one more showing at the Roxy in Wellington this Saturday morning.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5426 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    Basically, the two treatments are for two totally different types of MS issues and one is not a substitute for another.

    But yeah, the more Pharmac-funded treatment options that are available to people with MS, the better.

    Ah. Thanks for that, Robyn.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Sacha,

    Foirtunately I have yet to see an anxious stoner (though I know paranoia is an oft-described effect).

    The most common symptoms in recreational marijuana ED presentations are panic and tachycardia.

    The anti-anxiety component is the CBD, which, as I noted, is present in a lower ratio than it used to be, except where it has been bred back in.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I’m not sure the cannabis reform people protesting outside the hospital and ministry were of much help (on this case or any other TBH).

    They never are. Their cause would be furthered if they all stayed home and took hits from the bong.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Some useful comment from Chris Fowlie (aka the marijuana activist who doesn’t make things worse):

    CBD is already listed in the Medicines Act and so you’d think it would be easy to prescribe. Non-medical use of CBD is not illegal, so anyone can order it online and import it without any issues. But if you want to use CBD medically, it comes under the Medicines Act and must be prescribed. However the only approved medicine here that contains CBD is Sativex, which also contains THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The Hospital were not willing to turn a blind eye to ‘non medical’ use nor were they keen to give Alex THC, apparently fearing that if Alex came out of the coma he might be distressed or disorientated from being ‘high’. But if it saved his life, would he really mind a rather pleasant, short lasting, side effect?

    Regardless, there is no medicine approved here containing CBD that the hospital could use, so they needed to apply for special permission to import an experimental CBD medication called Elixinol from the US. This required import permits, storage facilities, and wading through more red tape.

    Then the Hospital bureaucrats and P.R. guardians came into the picture. The Ethics committee wanted a say. Things slowed down. The family got frustrated. They dared to talk to the media and started a Change.org petition that quickly got over twenty thousand supporters. In what seemed like a childish hissy fit, the Hospital pulled the plug on applying to use CBD. Another week went by. The family did not give up, they talked to more media, and organised protests outside Wellington Hospital and in Nelson.

    Finally, the bureaucrats at Capital and Coast District Health Board remembered they are there to help not hinder. Last Friday they agreed to fill out the forms and lodge the application, which they eventually did on Monday afternoon.

    To his credit, Dunne acted quickly and granted permission on Tuesday morning. And to their credit, at least Wellington Hospital have at last done the right thing. The problem lies not with them but an outdated law that locks up access to medicinal cannabis tighter than hard core pharmaceuticals that have truly dangerous side effects and risks (Vioxx, anyone?).

    What is really exciting is this is the first time permission has been granted to use a medical cannabis product that does not have the usual pharmaceutical-level testing and clinical trials. It took the cannabis extract Sativex many years to achieve this, which explains why it is so expensive compared to illicitly obtained or home grown medical cannabis. Legal access is treated like an application to use heroin.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Good to see the science getting a turn to talk. Good work Russell!

    It’s hard to understand why this sort of thing is still getting reported on public broadcasting, without emphasising the key words – that will almost certainly course emotional reactions.

    Like when I buy alcohol free beer at the supermarket. I need the be eighteen to get past the wall of ignorance about not only what part of the product is dangerous, but also the part that’s illegal to sell to children.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4341 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to steven crawford,

    Like when I buy alcohol free beer at the supermarket. I need the be eighteen to get past the wall of ignorance about not only what part of the product is dangerous, but also the part that’s illegal to sell.

    Really? They have it set up at the Grey Lynn Countdown so that alcohol-free beer doesn't trigger the needs-approval flag.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Russell Brown,

    That’s very cool. I will be shopping there exclusively when I go to Auckland. They must have taken the time to read the liquor licence.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4341 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Legal access is treated like an application to use heroin

    I'm not sure if heroin is licensed here for severe pain, but similar opiates certainly are and just need to be prescribed by a doctor and signed out the controlled drugs cupboard.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Hadfield,

    My father-in-law suffered from narcolepsy and took amphetamines under prescription for most of his 80 years. This despite the close relationship between the drugs he took and P. So why the fuss about cannabis products?

    Wellington • Since Jun 2015 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Andrew, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Really? They have it set up at the Grey Lynn Countdown so that alcohol-free beer doesn’t trigger the needs-approval flag.

    I can't even buy a home-brew kit in Countdown without ID here in Hamilton. But I could buy sugar, yeast and malt extract...

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie,

    Thanks for a sensible post on this topic Russell. As usual.

    It's ironic that while we have America to thank (blame) for our current cannabis laws, attitudes change and 41 US states now permit the use of medical marijuana. But it's still a banned substance in NZ.

    I realise that the odds are low, but I sincerely hope that CBD provides Alex some relief from his seizures. That scenario might widen the conversation and hopefully modify some of the more entrenched attitudes towards the medical use of cannabis.

    And kudos to Peter Dunne for moving so quickly this time.

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1388 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    Off topic but slightly on, Isn't it possible to operate and remove the part affected that causes the seizures. The bit upthread also about Docs being concerned he might awaken from his coma slightly high sounds like a pathetic excuse. I woke from my coma and was permanently medicated on god knows what (although t'other will know) and I'd spend time telling my Dad just what my hallucinations were . It became a bit of fun after a while. So really the Doctors are willing and able to prescribe drugs that get you high every time it suits. Now, I'm a perfect example of coma to seizures to completely normal human being albeit a few permanent pains... which marijuana alleviates. hah!

    ETA, Methinks Peter Dunne is starting to understand that sensible debate should gain traction ,methinks the likes of RB's (Brown and Bell) have assisted him in that decision. I'd say kudos to Dunne when he employs these 2 to head the Panel for discussion on Marijuana reform with the view to follow along the lines of decriminalisation first.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Alfie,

    That scenario might widen the conversation and hopefully modify some of the more entrenched attitudes towards the medical use of cannabis.

    If ever there was a time to be pedantic about the use of language, it's now. The medical use of cannabis, is what hippys are allowed to do in San Fransisco. Becouse that's the compromise over legalizing it.

    Medications which are extracted from cannabis are definitly not cannabis.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4341 posts Report Reply

  • Alfie, in reply to steven crawford,

    Medications which are extracted from cannabis are definitly not cannabis.

    Would that be Pedantic with a capital P Steven? Seriously?

    Dunedin • Since May 2014 • 1388 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Curtis,

    "Let’s grow up about this. And when we’ve grown up, perhaps we can talk like grown-ups "

    He says, dripping with paternalism, mixed with some I know it all and then inhaled with a glint in your eye.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • Toni-Marie Matich,

    I think there are some key elements which the wider population are forgetting in supporting Medical Cannabis, a couple of those are that it should be treated like any pharamceutical, it isnt a 1 product (such as sativex) could benefit any one condition, and yes research has been done to some extent over the years but not really until the last 2 years whereas as many know it is largely legal under various regimes globaly, my point is - it is hard to understand and comprehend the medicinal values of the Cannabis plant when just one compound THC has largely been focused on and mostly for its negative recreational aspects from our Governement largely and others globally, there are over 480 compounds in the plant all of which have various roles and THC works with those other compounds in whats known as the entourage effect
    The other point is that in order for government officials or those within the ministry of health and medicial professionals to support a patient in using Medical Cannabis they need to have a understanding of how to do that and feel supported in doing so, ratios and strains would need to be understood as possibly benefiting what conditions as well as possible contraindications, and globally thats still largely unknown

    Lastly, I cannot even understand how the product Elixinol was approved:

    1. There was an expose done on the company that produced Elixinol a while back that reported unfavorable side effects from several users. There were lawsuits filed against the authors of the report and the point of contention of the article was the test results that reportedly showed contaminants in the oil, and was later retracted by the lab that did the testing. The issue which survives any testing issue was the negative side effects some experienced.
    2. Elixinol is derived from Industrial Hemp, versus Cannabis, which I believe to be less desirable.
    3. There have been very good results in treating patients with various seizure related conditions, and at times, the highest CBD ratio is not as effective as some which contain slight amounts of THC. Cannabis derived medicines do have varying amounts of THC, and Cannabis therapies are very individual in treatment and some patients require different formulations.

    Myself I feel the only way forward is NZ based cultivation, production and research whereas some kind of compassionate access is at least considered for cases such as these, and yes a coma is very serious, however there are thousands of New Zealanders that have exhausted every available medical option here in NZ and from which could possibly benefit, these peoples health conditions are often life-limiting or terminal

    Hawkes Bay • Since Jun 2015 • 2 posts Report Reply

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