Embassy Headlines, Issue 116


Are doctors and politicians happy to sacrifice the quality of life for our sick loved ones while they ignore clinical trials from around the world?

The pharmaceutical industry only invests in trials where they stand to make a lot of money. This is not the case with cannabis medicines. It will be detrimental to the pharmaceutical industry should this natural herb become more widely used as a medicine in Australia.

The Embassy Headlines are a selection of recent articles from news services and media sources primarily concerning Cannabis issues, the consequences of prohibition and the challenges for law reform. Here are the selected headlines for this week.

Lighting up debate on drugs [Saturday Paper]

If there is one thing about public policy that everybody knows, it is that prohibition doesn’t work. Yet when it comes to drugs, which despite their illegality are ubiquitous, the only prohibition in force is on that of successful policy. The Australian drug reform movement has historically lacked coherence and strong figureheads, and has struggled for momentum, but the success of Portuguese drug decriminalisation and the recent legalisation of marijuana in the US states of Washington and Colorado present an opportunity to bring the issue back to the mainstream. The key to achieving liberalisation is generating political will, the ghost in the machine of politics. Any urgency and intensity of opinion on the issue tends to push in precisely the opposite direction, resulting in reactionary and illiberal policy. It is clear that drug law reform will not come from the political class, particularly given the strict adherence to voting along party lines. Resolving the question of how to achieve change surely lies in the broad coalition of voices in favour of reform. The ability to speak across demographics and political persuasions will help to create a climate to which politicians eventually must respond. There is no incentive for politicians to stick their neck out on an issue that has previously faced relentless tabloid newspaper campaigns against harm minimisation, despite its many benefits. It is worth countering the sentiment of panic on its own turf: that the vested interests, not to mention the sole profiteers, in the sale of illegal drugs are unpleasant criminal gangs. Advocates ought to look to the gay marriage lobby as the model of how to change public opinion in favour of social reform.

Australian Child Turns to Cannabis as Last Hope [Weedist]

Australian politicians have approved a medical cannabis trial thanks to a little girl. Two year old Cambrie Humphris suffers from 80-100 seizures per day. After a long list of failed treatments, her parents, who have been urging politicians to approve medical cannabis trials, are happy to let Cambrie take part in the research, looking to medical cannabis as a final hope to relieve their daughter’s suffering. Cambrie’s mother, Belinda, had this to say: “Our hearts break every day for our disabled child, her sister and our family as a whole. We are grieving every day over what our child must endure.” 

‘My life sucks’: Wagga man calls for medical marijuana [Daily Advertiser]

The former traffic controller was going about his job when he was hit by a car three times at the hands of a disgruntled driver. Battered and bruised, Mr Todd was then assaulted by the driver. Eight years after the cowardly attack, the father of four has added a human face to the medical marijuana debate in the Riverina, joining a growing chorus of people who advocate for medicinal trials of the drug in Australia. Doctor Matthew Large, of the University of New South Wales School of Psychiatry, said there is “no doubt” medical evidence supported the use of the drug as a second-line treatment.

Australian Support for Medical Marijuana Grows Down Under [Marijuana]

A quick look at news headlines from around the world shows that the United States is not alone in its fight against marijuana prohibition. The Age, an Australian newspaper, reported on their website Sunday that the push for medical marijuana is picking up steam. The report comes after Daniel Andrews, the leader of the Labor Party in Victoria, pledged that his party will seek advice on “prescription, manufacture and distribution” of medical marijuana should they come to power. As is often the case, the party making the promises are in the Opposition. Still, Andrews seems passionate about the subject:

“In some cases, parents are forced to choose between breaking the law and watching their child suffer,” Mr Andrews said.

“Children are in pain, families are suffering, people are living in fear, and outdated laws are getting in the way.”

The Age reports that a “multi-party” group of lawmakers are working to pass a bill that would allow cannabis oil as a treatment. Queensland lawmaker, Warren Entsch, told the paper that he is opposed to recreational marijuana, but supports medical use.

“I’d hate to see people tagged as criminals because we don’t have the flexibility to recognise the positive and scientifically proven benefits of this natural substance,” [Entsch] said.

The update serves to underscore not only that the War Against Prohibition is a world-wide event, but that progress in one area can start to be seen in the fight on the opposite side of the world.

Miracle oil for young Deisha [Coffs Coast Advocate]

Deisha Stevens couldn’t hold a conversation, write her name or live like a normal eight-year-old just a few months ago. Now she’s a vibrant girl who has shocked her parents and teachers with the progress she’s made. Her life was changed when dad and Coffs Harbour Citizen of the Year David Stevens made the difficult choice to investigate using medicinal cannabis to help treat the seizures that were killing her. The results have been spectacular and David now says if he was a religions man, he’d call it a miracle. A forum on medicinal cannabis was held at this year’s Nimbin Mardi Gras and David, who has never even considered using marijuana recreationally, out of desperation decided it was worth hearing what the speakers had to say. He took Deisha along and was convinced it was worth a try when he heard a doctor speak about cold-pressed cannabis oil that contains almost none of the psychoactive parts of the drug. “Within three days of Deisha being on the cannabis oil we saw differences,” David said. “She was more alive, more alert – on all the medication she had been taking she was doped up to the hilt. Beforehand she was having seizure activity in her brain every five to eight seconds, now there is no physical sign of them.” There is a risk involved. Medicinal cannabis is not yet legal to produce in Australia, but while Deisha’s doctors can’t openly support its use, they have been amazed by the progress. 

Wil Anderson smokes medical marijuana daily to cope with chronic osteoarthritis pain, calls for legalisation [Courier Mail]

Comedian Wil Anderson has called for the legalisation of medical marijuana and opened up about his seven-year battle with debilitating osteoarthritis. Now pursuing a career in the US, the Los Angeles-based comic uses medical marijuana to cope with chronic back and hip pain. Cannabis is legal for medical use in California. The 40-year-old Gruen Transfer host began using the drug regularly after experiencing “massive, serious side effects” with “pretty hardcore” conventional prescription medications.

Senate proposal: Farmers, grow cannabis and help the economy! [The Area News]

A man who believes cannabis could be “the answer to most of Australia’s economic and medical problems” has listed Griffith as an ideal location for the production of medical cannabis for an extensive trial. Gary Anderson has put forward a proposal in the Australian Senate for the largest medical trials in history and a People’s Cannabis Industry Investment Bank Cooperative. The 32 page submission is number 142 Inquiry into the Trade and Foreign Investment (Protecting the Public Interest) Bill 2014 and is available for download in full from the Senate Website. Mr Anderson, founder of the Songs of Freedom and Dances of Peace Revival, said farmers across NSW were starting to get their heads around this proposal and doing their sums. “I have listed Griffith as one of the towns who may be able to co-ordinate production of the full quantity needed for these trials. This is not because of previous history. I just thought of Griffith as a reasonable size, strong farming town,” he said.

Mum’s plea for medical cannabis [West Australian]

Every day, Shellie Martin gives daughter Sophie a cocktail of potent barbiturate sedatives and tranquillisers to try to control life-threatening seizures that rack her. The five-year-old is addicted to the drugs but often even they cannot control her severe epilepsy. But she cannot get medical cannabis, a drug that could help control her violent seizures with fewer side effects. Her parents are frustrated that Sophie and 3000 other WA children are denied potential relief from their uncontrolled epilepsy. Cannabis is not approved for therapeutic use in Australia but various State governments are being lobbied to legalise its use. Health Minister Kim Hames is against medical cannabis, arguing it would work against messages to stop people smoking marijuana, but WA Labor leader Mark McGowan wants people with terminal or chronic illnesses to have access to it in tablet or spray form. 

‘We can’t close our minds’ on cannabis: Ruth Forrest [Tasmanian Advocate]

The use of medicinal cannabis instead of other ”toxic drugs with unfortunate side affects” will be discussed at the parliamentary committee inquiry, according to Independent MP Ruth Forrest. In the inquiry, beginning on September 18, the medical benefits of cannabis and whether Tasmania can grow the crop for use will be considered. Recent stories in The Advocate have shed light on circumstances where cannabis oil was beneficial for health, including in the treatment of cancer and epilepsy. Ms Forrest, who established the inquiry, said the committee had received almost 100 submissions, many with similar medical stories. ”It’s important to hear from those people and we can’t close our minds to people who are suffering,” she said. ”They’ve usually been through a whole range of treatment options and it hasn’t worked and these people are still suffering.”

Tasmanian health minister Michael Ferguson backs cannabis trials [Guardian]

Tasmania’s health minister supports trials of medicinal cannabis in the state, he has told a parliamentary inquiry. Michael Ferguson rejected a bid for a trial in the state in July, raising health and security concerns, but told an upper house committee on Monday a trial could be possible if subject to strong regulation. The committee is examining legalised medicinal cannabis and the Liberal government has made its submission. “We support appropriately conducted clinical trials, feeding into the existing national medicines regulatory framework,” Ferguson said in a statement. “We will objectively consider any proposal regarding a trial of medicinal cannabis on a case-by-case basis.” Ferguson said the government supported the potential use of medicinal cannabis, but it must be subject to an evidence-based approach and strong regulatory frameworks.

Medicinal cannabis needs support from the medical profession [Sydney Morning Herald]

I started a medicinal cannabis campaign earlier this year and have been in direct talks with Premier Mike Baird as recently as last week when he visited me at home in Tamworth. I have had no such response from the medical world. I have written to NSW Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Saxon Smith and Federal AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler  about this issue and heard nothing back from either of them so I direct my comments to them as well as to Professor Talley in this public domain. Clinical trials of medicinal marijuana have been conducted throughout the world; the medical profession in Australia just chooses to ignore them. Is it because of their support for the pharmaceutical industry which so heavily influences medical opinions and treatment choices? Bold question I know, but it is the only conclusion I can make. People prescribing medicine who are continuously given generous gifts by the pharmaceutical industry, would come under third party scrutiny and perhaps considered corrupt, if they were in another setting such as the political arena.

What works best in the war on drugs [The Conversation]

To be effective, drug policies have to be based on evidence, rather than intuition about what should or shouldn’t work or public opinion. But while it is a terrible policy for society and public health – it lands masses of people in jail for minor crimes, for instance, and makes the difficult task of controlling blood-borne viruses almost impossible – the war on drugs is often good political strategy. It helps political candidates win elections on a law-and-order platform, providing a disincentive for ending the hardline approach.

Federal MP wants pot in supermarkets, hard drugs available for addicts to break crime rings [Herald Sun]

Cannabis should be sold in supermarkets and hard drugs be available from the Government for heroin, cocaine and ice addicts under a federal MP’s radical drug reform plan. Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm wants to kill the power of organised crime in Australia by decriminalising drugs, opening up the market and bringing down prices. Senator Leyonhjelm said while it might not be smart to use marijuana, it was a harmless, non-addictive drug and should be openly available. His party’s philosophy is that if a person is not hurting anyone else, the Government should stay out of their business. Like in the fruit-and-vegetable industry, farmers should grow cannabis for sale in supermarkets and other shops, he said. And anyone should be able to grow it in their garden.

‘Drugs war unwinnable, time to legalise’ [3AW]

Victoria’s top cop admits the “war on drugs” is a fight that can’t be won, but says he won’t support calls to legalise some illicit drugs. Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm today called for the decriminalisation of many narcotics – and for them to be administered by the Commonwealth – in a bid to suppress the role of organised crime. Chief Commissioner Ken Lay told Neil Mitchell that law and order alone won’t be enough to rid Melbourne’s streets of dangerous drugs like ice, but says legalising them is not the answer. “There will be many, many people who will disagree with me and argue that the war on drugs has been lost and we’ll never win it,” he told 3AW Mornings. “And while I have some sympathy with that, I can’t get over this piece about putting a substance into the community, or making them more freely available, and the consequent effects on a whole lot of people.” However crossbench senator Leyonhjelm told Neil Mitchell that legalising narcotics would take the power out of the hands of organised crime syndicates.

SA police buy TruNarc analysers that can detect drugs through plastic, glass [Yahoo News]

New drug testing equipment that can detect narcotics through plastic and glass will be deployed by South Australia Police. The department purchased six portable TruNarc analysers, which use low-power laser technology to scan for, and quickly identify, illicit drugs without the need for direct contact. Detective Chief Inspector John Schrader said the analysers could scan substances through plastic or glass without the need to disturb packaging.

New device to let police drug test drivers “every day” [Northern Star]

A new weapon in the fight against road fatalities is coming to the Northern Rivers and police are putting drivers who use illicit drugs on notice. Richmond and Tweed Byron Highway Patrol cluster supervisor Senior Sergeant Chad George said the Drager DrugTest machine would be kept at Lismore Police station from May 2015. Traditionally, Snr Sgt George said, drug testing operations across the region coincided with major events. “Drug testing is usually conducted with our major events, so Mardigrass, Splendour in the Grass, Bluesfest and over holiday periods,” he said. “Once we get the device we will be able to use it every day and there is a push on for mobile testing rather than the stationary testing we have traditionally conducted.” The Drager DrugTest device detects the presence of cannabis, methamphetamine, amphetamines and cocaine in a driver’s oral fluid. 

World figures calls for all illicit drugs to be decriminalised [ABC]

A high level international body is calling for a radical about-face in our approach to the global drugs trade. In a report to the United Nations in New York today, the Global Commission on Drug Policy is calling on governments worldwide to legalise drugs like heroin and cocaine in order to take back control of the trade in illicit drugs from violent cartels. Michel Kazatchkine is one of the commissioners and he spoke to the ABC from New York shortly after launching the commission’s report.

World Leaders to Make Bold, Groundbreaking Recommendations for Major Paradigm Shift in Global Drug Policy [Global Commission on Drug Policy]

On Tuesday, September 9, the Global Commission on Drug Policy will release Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work, a new, groundbreaking report at a press conference in New York City. The event will be live-streamed and speakers include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Richard Branson and others. The Commissioners will then meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson in the afternoon following the press conference. The report reflects a new evolution in the thinking of the Commissioners, who are set to become the most distinguished group of high-level leaders to ever call for far-reaching changes to global drug policy.

Developing a safe and effective alternative to medicinal marijuana [Health Canal]

In recent years, the use of cannabis in medical treatment has sparked a heated debate between state and federal governments. Although the federal government has banned marijuana — it is classified as a Schedule I Drug and a license is needed to possess it — some individual states have decriminalized it for medical use. A Schedule I Drug is defined as one with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. As of July 2014, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana and have set laws, fees and possession limits. What if there were an alternative? In time, there could be. Researchers such as Aron Lichtman, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, are studying cannabis-like chemicals called endogenous cannabinoids that are made by the human body and brain.

The surprising story of medical marijuana and pediatric epilepsy: Josh Stanley at TEDxBoulder[YouTube]

Josh sifts through the propaganda, fear and greed encompassing medical marijuana. Recently featured on CNN, Josh and his brothers developed a non-psychotropic strain of marijuana which is drastically reducing seizures for many pediatric epilepsy patients in Colorado. With millions facing life-threatening illnesses, Josh outlines the hurdles needed to effect social change and maps a path toward helping those who desperately need revolutionary medicine.

Legal Use of Marijuana Clashes With Job Rules [New York Times]

Brandon Coats knew he was going to fail his drug test. Paralyzed in a car crash when he was 16, he had been using medical marijuana since 2009 to relieve the painful spasms that jolted his body. But he smoked mostly at night, and said marijuana had never hurt his performance answering customer calls for a Colorado satellite-television provider. So when his employer, Dish Network, asked Mr. Coats to take a random drug screen, he was not surprised when the test came back positive for marijuana. He told his bosses why, but when he got to work the following week, he said, “my card wouldn’t open up the door.” He was fired for violating the company’s drug-free workplace rules, despite having a medical marijuana card.

Debating Drugs: How to Make the Case for Legal Regulation [Transform]

Transform has a new publication out today. Organised into 12 key subject areas, our latest guide contains concise summaries of the arguments for legal regulation, along with effective responses to many commonly heard concerns. So if someone tells you that legal regulation would mean a drugs ‘free-for-all’, or that the war on drugs can be won if we simply fight harder, you’ll be equipped to reply with short, clear and memorable counter-arguments.

Medical Marijuana After Traumatic Event ‘Prevents PTSD Symptoms’ [Yahoo News UK]

Providing trauma patients with medical marijuana shortly after the event could help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researchers have said. In a study on rats, scientists at the University of Haifa in Israel found that administering synthetic marijuana, or cannabinoids, helped to prevent PTSD symptoms caused by both the trauma and trauma reminders. 

Inside the Secret World of a British Undercover Drugs Cop [Vice]

Neil put a tiny splodge of speed on the tip of his tongue, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the gangster. “I was a little too tentative, so he said, ‘You want to have more than that!’ He expected me to have a tolerance, so he gave me another big dollop. I could feel it burning as it hit my mouth. He charged me some money for it and I went home, but I didn’t sleep for the next three nights. It was absolutely horrific. We got the stuff tested later and it was over 40 percent pure. Normal street stuff is about 5 percent.” This kind of thing wasn’t out of the ordinary for Neil, who served as a undercover drugs officer for 14 years between 1993 and 2007. During his tenure he estimates that his work put drug criminals behind bars for a combined total of 1,000 years, though he’s certain all that prison time did absolutely nothing to stem the flow of drugs like heroin onto Britain’s streets. “Everything I did while undercover was a waste of time,” he says. “All I did was make the lives of the vulnerable more unbearable.” While it was domestic stress with his ex-wife that ultimately led to his resignation from the force in November of 2012, for years he’d been growing slowly disillusioned with the policing of drug laws and the undercover tactics he had both witnessed and used himself.

It’s Gardeners’ Question Time! [Drug Science]

The Mail on Sunday today invented a “storm” of controversy over Kew Gardens’ upcoming Intoxication Season, where the public will be recklessly endangered by learning things about plants with …(whisper it)… drugs in them. The comments posted below their laughable article show how easily readers see though this. The comments give the encouraging feeling that the attitude taken by the Mail here is losing its foothold in the UK. Given that, it would be totally unnecessary to write a blog telling you how silly these journalists are. But it might be fun… Kew’s Intoxication Season will I think inform and excite anyone who visits about the plants and fungi that contain drugs. Perhaps the understanding gained might even help a visitor to more safely navigate life in a world where, like it or not, intoxicating plants exist. We hope you’ll come along. But will the Drugscience experts speaking at Kew, including David Nutt and Val Curran, be endorsing drug use? Only in the sense that a heart-surgeon’s lecture can be taken as an endorsement of cutting people with blades. To understand heart surgery or pharmacology is to understand that a knife or drug has no intrinsic good or evil, but that humans, with knowledge guiding their choices, can minimise the harm they can cause and maximise their benefits. The Mail journalists on the other hand believe in a black-and-white world in which use of certain drugs is harmful and wrong, and they imagine we at Drugscience see the same drugs as helpful and right. Their mistake is to see ‘harmful’ and ‘helpful’ as contradictions, when of course we are familiar with countless things which can be both;- cars, fire, journalists, doctors. The opium poppy and the cannabis plant both have the potential to be used in ways that harm and to be used in ways that help, that is simply a statement of well-established fact, not of opinion or ideology.

Marijuana: Italian Army to Grow Cannabis for Medical Purposes [International Business Times]

The Italian army will grow medical marijuana to meet the country’s needs for cannabis derivatives drugs. The Ministries of Health and Defence have reached an agreement that is to put the military in charge of operations to cultivate the drug and produce medicines used in pain treatment and other therapies, La Stampa newspaper reported. A military pharmaceutical plant in Florence that currently produces drugs for Italy’s armed forces, as well as other products for the market including cosmetics and spirits, is to take care of the strictly-controlled production. The use of marijuana for medical purposes was first legalised in Italy in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, in fact, patients have long struggled to get hold of cannabis drugs due to red tape, political opposition and supply issues. There are no legal private growers of medical marijuana in Italy, as growing cannabis is allowed only for research purposes. All derivatives drugs are imported from abroad, thus making them very expensive for both patients and the national health care system. 

Islamic State fighters burn marijuana field in Syria [Telegraph UK]

Islamic State militants have posted amateur footage online showing men burning fields of what they claim to be marijuana plants. The video shows men cutting down the plants from a large field, making a number of piles, then dousing them with flammable liquid and setting the plants alight. TheSyrian observatory for human rights reported on the 13th of August that the Islamic State had captured several towns and villages from rival Ismlamist groups in the Syrian province of Aleppo. The Islamic State has unleashed a bloody wave of repression in Syria, conducting mass executions, threats and house demolitions. 

North Korea: China’s Largest Drug Dealer? [The Diplomat]

The biggest loser in China’s new war on drugs is likely to be North Korea. It has long been documented that large amounts of North Korean-produced narcotics are smuggled across the border into China either for sale there or for shipment elsewhere. This used to largely consist of opium and heroin but in the last decade or so those drugs have seemingly been surpassed in volume by insanely pure methamphetamine (along with other synthetic drugs like MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy and molly).

Growing support for legalising medical marijuana in Guam [ABC]

There’s growing support to legalise marijuana in Guam, but only for medical purposes. It follows increasing scientific evidence that medical marijuana can provide relief for people with various conditions, including cancer and epilepsy. It’s part of a worldwide trend; the push is on in many Australian states to legalise medical cannabis, while in the United States, 23 states have already done so. And whether Guam follows suit now lies in the hands of the people.

New knowledge of cannabis paves the way for drug development [Eureka Alert]

Revolutionary nanotechnology method could help improve the development of new medicine and reduce costs. Researchers from the Nano-Science Center and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen have developed a new screening method that makes it possible to study cell membrane proteins that bind drugs, such as cannabis and adrenaline, while reducing the consumption of precious samples by a billion times.

World Rediscovers Marijuana as an Aphrodisiac [Underground Health]

The effect of marijuana consumption on libido has been the subject of much discussion but little research. Based on anecdotal evidence, the ancient history of cannabis, and recent studies – marijuana has a primarily positive effect on the sexual experience. For most users, especially women, it acts as an aphrodisiac. However, some people tend to retract into themselves and become disengaged from their partners. Dosage seems to be the primary factor, with aphrodisiac effects being greater with smaller amounts. 

Cannabis-Based Batteries Could Change the Way We Store Energy Forever [Earth We Are One]

Wake Up World As hemp makes a comeback in the U.S. after a decades-long ban on its cultivation, scientists are reporting that fibers from the plant can pack as much energy and power as graphene, long-touted as the model material for supercapacitors. They’re presenting their research, which a Canadian start-up company is working on scaling up, at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

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