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The Wait For Medical Cannabis Treatment Is Crushing Carers

Governments are working towards it, but it's too slow for carers.

10/03/2017 11:21 AM AEDT | Updated 13/03/2017 9:33 AM AEDT

Medical cannabis campaigners say they are being crushed under the weight of waiting for definitive information about how the drug can be prescribed and how to legally acquire locally sourced product, as the nation continues its grind towards wider access.

The federal government and most of its state counterparts have shifted their stance on medicinal cannabis over the past two years and laid the ground work for expansion of the burgeoning industry in Australia.

Amid criticism that approval to manufacture the drug in Australia is taking too long, the federal government announced three weeks ago easier importation of the medication as well as faster approval of domestic licences.

Since the announcement, Jenny Hallam -- who was raided in 2014 for supplying medical cannabis -- has been inundated with calls by people she cannot help.

I've just finished answering a message from one lady who has had a broken back and it has been completely rebuilt with steel rods. She's in so much pain, and was begging for help, and I have to say no. Jenny Hallam

For years, the South Australian-based medical cannabis campaigner has been trying to raise the profile of the drug, which is both the subject of a series of medical trials in Australian states and, simultaneously, a booming black market.

The pressure increased sharply three weeks ago, when Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the Federal Government approved plans to let domestic companies sell the products.

"I'm getting so frustrated," she told the Huffington Post Australia.

"The minimum is five or ten requests a day, and that can go up to 20 or 30. That's either people speaking to me personally, either when they see me out in public, they come to my house, call me.

"It's not stopping."

Hallam, who has never charged for her product and stopped counting the cost of producing the oil after she spent more than $20,000, told the HuffPost she doesn't know if she can survive the wait until a domestic industry is properly up and running.

She wants in on that industry, but along with a Melbourne-based company she has partnered with, she is still waiting for a licence approval.

"I stopped counting after $20,000, and that was at the end of 2015," she said, referring to the money she spent when she supplied medical cannabis.

"I still keep the receipts, in case the police want to charge me."

'I'm not going back to giving my daughter CPR'

There is confusion among those who require medical cannabis treatment for illnesses such as epilepsy and chronic pain.

Most states have some sort of patient access in place since medical cannabis became legal on a federal level last year, but only for certain illnesses and in trial-based systems that keep that access limited.

That progress is too slow for some, who have spent years treating their loved ones with the medical cannabis.

Katrina Mosley has been using medical cannabis to treat her daughter Kaitlyn's refractory epilepsy -- a condition so severe the grinning, bubbly eight-year old often has to be given CPR after a seizure. She has met with Health Minister Hunt and Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to press her case.

Kaitlyn cannot go to school because Katrina cannot give her carer the cannabis oil to be used on school property, she said.

Medical Marijuana -- What You Need To Know

  • Laws around medicinal cannabis vary by jurisdiction in Australia.
  • Nationally, recent changes to federal laws have allowed businesses to apply for a licence to produce cannabis for medicinal purposes only under the Narcotics Drugs Amendment Act 2016.
  • But domestically made product is not yet available to buy or use.
  • It is currently available to select patients in strictly-controlled trials.
  • In the absence of wide access to the products on a legal prescription basis, Australians have turned to less than legal avenues to secure what they need.
  • The federal government announced 3 weeks ago it allow certain companies in Australia to import medical cannabis from overseas, and sell it to patients who have been prescribed the product by their doctor.

Katrina worked out a deal with the school that will allow her alone to administer the treatment, she said, but it would require the mother of three young children to be at her Kaitlyn's side for 6.5 hours a day.

"Kaitlyn hasn't been to school for 12 months," she told the HuffPost.

Katrina has been offered a medical cannabis drug from the Netherlands, but she says it's only recommended for people aged over 25. Their specialist won't write a prescription for that drug, but does support Katrina being treated by her current, locally sourced product.

"My local doctor was going to do it, but because she is only a GP they have to have a specialist sign off on it.

They don't realise what they put us through.Katrina Mosley

"Kaitlyn's specialist said she is not happy to do a supporting letter for a drug Kaitlyn's never tried. She will do a supporting letter for the drug Kaitlyn's on now," she said.

Work is being done to talk paediatricians at the hospital through the process, she said, but Kaitlyn's paediatrician has just gone on two weeks holiday.

"It seems to not be going anywhere," Mosley said.

"I'm not going back to giving my daughter CPR.

"I can't sleep at night thinking what's going to happen. Is my daughter ever going to be able to have an education and go to school? Is she ever going to have legal medication? They don't realise what they put us through."

There is progress

Australia's first licence for growing and harvesting medical cannabis domestically was granted on Wednesday.

The licence will only supply the Victorian market for now, but federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said other states could expect to have their licences issued shortly.

"This heralds the beginning of Australian domestic supply of medicinal cannabis products," he said.

A study from the University of Sydney of self-reported experiences of 976 people showed nine out of 10 people who used medical cannabis to treat epilepsy found it more successful than other medical treatments

Lead author of the survey, Anastasia Survev from The Lambert Initiative at the University of Sydney told The Huffington Post Australia people reported resorting to medicinal cannabis to manage treatment-resistant epilepsy and to reduce side effects that had they had experienced on conventional medicines.

Suraev also told HuffPost Australia that while the findings aren't yet backed by medical proof, the survey highlights that people with epilepsy self-report using illicit cannabis as treatment.

In order to hold a licence and commence cannabis production, business applicants need to pass strict legislative tests relating to security set by the government.

In January the Australian Medical Association warned some GPs will refuse to dispense medicinal cannabis when the drug becomes legal in Queensland because there is not enough clinical evidence about its long-term impacts.


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