2nd May 2017: This month and next there's plenty to learn, if the Government is truly serious
Imagine you’re building your dream home – the most beautiful house ever built. And that resources aren’t any problem; that you can afford, just about, to hire the finest professionals anywhere to be found in the world – ready and capable of turning your vision into reality.
You have the perfect location, premium, artisanal materials plus a phone and a very large cheque-book.
In these circumstances, it’s unlikely, one would think, you’d engage for your project a demolition squad, a couple of mates who barrack the same football team and a crowd down the pub one of whom once put a fence up.
No. In a scenario such as this you would want, if you had any sense, the best qualified, brightest, most highly regarded and glittering talent on offer – from your architect through to your builder, landscaper, plumber, electrician and for your interior design. You’d want, in short, the absolute crème de la crème.
Now though, imagine you’re building not a house but a framework and system to deliver – from farm to pharmacy – medical cannabis and all it can lend to patients who need it throughout the whole of Australia.
Imagine, in other words, you’re a Minister or one of their senior bureaucrats. How would you set about it?
Those who’ve followed, even cursorily, the ignominious saga forming this country’s efforts (or, actually, lack of them) to create such system will be aware that, rather than adopt the former approach and enlist the pick of the litter, the Commonwealth Government has chosen instead something akin to the second, quite baffling path. It has done so by recruiting among the least qualified, antithetical and cannabis-sceptical thought-leaders, casuists and theoreticians most reviling of the plant it could find to ‘advise’ on its programme for pot.
As we’ve pointed out previously, it’s as if the Authorities want things to fail and are doing all in their power to make certain they do. That, or at the very least ensure ‘medical cannabis’ per se – as opposed to drug-company controlled ‘pharmaceutical cannabinoid medicines’ – never gets anywhere (legally) near to the patient.
Fortunately however, and for the third time since 2014, advocacy group United in Compassion is playing a major role in demonstrating – to all who will listen – how cannabis should and can make a triumphant return as a potent and highly versatile constituent of the physician’s armamentarium.
The organisation’s 2017 Symposium in Melbourne at the end of June will see top experts from across the planet, together with Australian colleagues, gather to share knowledge and information and discuss current activity at the bleeding edge of ‘cannabinoid therapeutics.’
We’re talking here about the medical cannabis world’s A-Listers. Those whose work and research make a mockery of the naysayers, cynics and denouncers whose irascible cries de coeur about the plant’s ‘dangers’, the ‘lack of evidence’ of its efficacy or its ‘limited use’ are becoming more empty, tired and discredited almost with each passing week. In this new world of personalised medicine and N=1 trials, tolerance if not affection is indeed growing for the hitherto demonic weed.
Here, truly can be found the specialists, hot-shots and trail-blazers – of the calibre required to build perhaps not a dream house but certainly a medicinal cannabis strategy to rival those of anywhere else in the world.
For three days, luminaries such as Dr Greg Gerdeman, Jeffery Hergenrather MD, Professor Sue Sisley and Dr ‘Dedi’ Meiri from overseas and Professor Simon Eckerman, Dr Judith Lacey, Leah Bisiani and Justin Sinclair from Australia will explore such topics as developing a cannabis treatment plan, the future of cannabis research, sustaining whole plant medicine and cannabis and cancer (the evidence, apparently, is ‘too good to ignore’) as well as providing a results of a critical Israeli paediatric epilepsy trial.
And the list is far from exhaustive (full 3-day Programme is here) – these and other keynoters being joined for panel discussions by the likes of human rights lawyer Greg Barns, Epilepsy Action’s Carol Ireland and film-maker Helen Kapalos whose documentary ‘A Life Of Its Own‘ will also be shown on day two followed by a Q&A. Former Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer too has also announced he will speak – since retiring much of his time has been spent campaigning for drug law reform, with, he says, a ‘focus on the critical issue of medicinal cannabis.’
One has only to look at the speaker biographies to realise these people mean serious business – there’s enough talent here, were it put to good use by the Government, to make medical weed an actuality in any country, not least one with an ideal growing climate and an existing (albeit underground) industry already operating profitably and propitiously.
Take just a few as examples.
Dr Sisley is an Arizona-based physician practicing Internal Medicine and Psychiatry. She works as Medical Director for medical cannabis license holders in 11 different states/territories from Hawaii to Puerto Rico to New York and serves as Site Principal Investigator for the only FDA-approved randomized controlled trial in the world examining safety/efficacy of whole plant marijuana in combat veterans with treatment-resistant post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Then there’s Dr Gerdeman, a neuroscientist and educator with expertise in the physiological actions of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. His Ph.D. dissertation in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt University was one of the first studies to discover endocannabinoids acting as ‘retrograde messengers’ that regulate synaptic plasticity in the brain, findings that have become a foundation to modern understanding of the ECS and the neuroprotective actions of cannabis. He has been a member of the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) since 1999, and is also a member of the International Association of Cannabinoid Medicine (IACM), the Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC) and the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience.
From Israel, Dr Meiri heads the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research at at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, where his lab investigates the therapeutic potential of phytocannabinoids, the active compounds of cannabis, to determine their anti-anti-tumour effects including the anti-metastatic and pro-apoptotic effects the chemicals exert on a spectrum of tumor cells.
Closer to home, Leah Bisiani is a multi-award winning, internationally renowned registered nurse/dementia consultant and an International Care Team Member of the ICA, (International Caregivers Association), a revered panel of dementia experts, based in Mapleton, USA.
With a partner she runs a business initiating evidence based research around the introduction of medicinal cannabinoids as an alternative to existing ineffective pain relief approaches within aged care.
Justin Sinclair is a pharmacognosist & educator, and has spent decades exploring the diverse field of herbal medicine, both from a scientific and traditional ethnopharmacological perspective while Professor Eckerman is Senior Professor of Health Economics at the Australian Health Services Research Institute, Sydney Business School and the University of Wollongong. He was previously Health Economics Professor at the Flinders University Centre for Clinical Change and Health Care Research and Senior Health Economist at the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre.
All have more than extensive knowledge of cannabis, encyclopedic even, when taken in combination yet none invited to assist the Government with its work delving into the matter – Ministers and their functionaries preferring the input of noted anti-weed propagandists and detractors whose names have been in part built on rubbishing its use as a medicine.
During the Symposium an Australian Chapter of the US-based Society of Cannabis Clinicians is being proposed and discussed with Jeffery Hergenrather, one of the Society’s founders – together with an inaugural session of a ‘Medical Cannabis Course‘ created by UIC’s Dr David Caldicott.
Headway it seems will be made with or without officialdom’s backing.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration was rashly made custodian of everything medical cannabis – a job for which it is manifestly and woefully ill-equipped – and is thus largely responsible for dismal scenario now – one which amounts, in the view of many, to a complete moral disregard for some of the country’s sickest, most vulnerable people.
For this the pair are to be commended for being prepared to engage in the full knowledge their Q&A session is certain to be an intense one.
Likewise the attendance and participation (also in a panel discussion) of Dr Bastian Seidel, President of the RACGP, an outfit that to date has been highly conservative about cannabis, as its current position statement makes clear, but which is now seemingly keen to learn more.
The entire shindig follows relatively hot on the heels of another kindred, if more general event, this one at Nimbin, the spiritual home of medicinal (and all other) cannabis. It will take place during the village’s forthcoming Mardi Grass festival a few days from the date of this post – a weekend of peaceful protest and civil disobedience over which the plant is simultaneously venerated and publicly consumed in significant quantities. Though lacking ‘establishment’ input and with a slightly less scholarly tone than its UIC counterpart, the ‘Hemposium‘ as it is known, nevertheless boasts speakers from the front-line of pot in Canada and the US as well as a number of politicians from Australian minority parties noted for their progressive positions on weed.
‘Cops & criminals, doctors & delinquents, academics and activists, politicians, pot-growers, patients, panderers and plain ol’ pot-heads, we got ’em all’ the event’s Programme says, and the organisers aren’t speaking idly.
Expect reports from both events on this website in due course.
For patients and advocates though such progress is not quick enough; the Authorities would do well to listen and learn from the opportunities this months affords them.
The United in Compassion Australian Medicinal Cannabis Symposium – 23, 24, 25 June 2017 – Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre, 1 Convention Centre Place , South Wharf, Melbourne, Victoria.
2017 Nimbin Mardi Grass Hemposium – Friday 5 May-Sunday 7 May, Nimbin Town Hall, Nimbin, NSW.
Medical Cannabis Research – ‘Medical Cannabis For Health Professionals’ Tuesday 9th May 7pm-9pm Veterinary Science Conference Centre, Lecture Theatre 208 (Webster), Regimental Drive, Sydney University, Sydney, NSW.