‘Cannabis is effective in treating symptoms’

ONE of the nation’s leading drug experts has described a Tamworth family’s case for decriminalising cannabis as “utterly compelling”.

Dr Alex Wodak, the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and emeritus consultant at St Vincent’s Hospital’s drug and alcohol service, said the evidence to support making cannabis available for the terminally ill was irrefutable.

His comments come as the family of 24-year-old Tamworth cancer patient Dan Haslam lobbies the state government to allow the drug as a treatment for nausea and loss of appetite in sufferers at the end of life.

“It is effective and it is safe,” Dr Wodak said.

“There is strong evidence that it (cannabis) is very effective in treating symptoms, especially when the first-line drug has proved ineffective or been accompanied by unacceptable side effects.

“There are a number of prestigious organisations that have looked at the evidence and found the same conclusion.”

He cited a wide-scale German review which found out of 91 controlled studies into the drug’s use for terminally-ill patients, 82 were favourable.

A NSW Upper House inquiry last year unanimously recommended cannabis be decriminalised in cases such as Mr Haslam’s, but the state government has so far resisted the calls.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner told The Leader this month there was not enough consensus in the medical fraternity to warrant decriminalising the drug for the terminally ill.

But Dr Wodak said that view was “nonsense”.

“The majority of medical professionals support it and the Australian Medical Association supports it,” he said.

“Bob Carr, John Howard and Campbell Newman are all on the record giving it support.

“It might not be the most urgent issue on the political agenda, but if it was your mum or dad dying of cancer and they had intractable nausea, wouldn’t you want them to have the best possible medicine?”

A bill and a 20,000-plus signature petition will be tabled in state parliament next month imploring the government to have a fresh look at the issue.

Political expedience, rather than hard evidence, remained the major stumbling block, Dr Wodak said.

“Politicians are concerned medical cannabis might be confused with recreational cannabis,” he said.

“They are totally separate though.

“Doctors and hospitals already give patients morphine, cocaine, amphetamine and ketamine.

“Why can we do it for those but not for cannabis?”

He said more than a dozen countries worldwide and more than 20 US states had legalised cannabis for medical use.

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