Medical marijuana for cancer patients

Dan Haslam’s story has led to reignited discussion in political and media circles about the medical use of cannabis.

But this is not a new discussion.

Cannabis for medical purposes was raised in the Drug Summit of 1999. 

Soon after, the then Premier Bob Carr announced a four year trial of the use of cannabis for medical purposes. 

Cancer Council supported this move, because we know that cannabis can help some cancer patients in some circumstances. 

The trial never happened due to complexities around the question of how to supply cannabis.

We need a compassionate approach to cannabis for medical purposes. 

For cancer patients, we know it can help with the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; relieve pain that is not managed by conventional pain medications; and stimulate appetite.

Imagine if someone you love had advanced cancer and was constantly struggling with pain, nausea, or weight loss. Nothing has helped. Wouldn’t you want to find a way to make things more bearable for them?

Despite all this, cancer patients still can’t get the relief they need from medically prescribed cannabis. 

Clearly there are some complex legal issues to work through, and the wheels of change move slowly, but time is a luxury not available to Dan and others like him.

Our evidence-based position is paired with insights from our direct contact with cancer patients. 

Some find it surprising that we support the medical use of cannabis. Perhaps this is because we are known for our anti-smoking work. Quite possibly it could also be because we are presumed to be conservative in our views, and therefore unlikely to support the use of something that is otherwise illegal.

But the medical use of cannabis makes sense.

Allowing controlled access to cannabis for cancer patients under certain circumstances, and with medical supervision, is about demonstrating compassion. 

This is an issue where we should be guided by a combination of evidence and compassion. 

We need to find a way through the legislative complexities, and we need to do it soon. 

We all know that when you are extremely unwell, every minute counts. Let’s hope that it isn’t another 15 years of debate before cannabis is available for medical purposes. 

Dan Haslam, and others like him, can’t wait that long.

Anita Tang

Cancer Council NSW

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