Thursday, August 18, 2016

NSW population study of medicinal cannabis challenges the official program

Further to my previous post, which questioned the approach to medicinal cannabis research being taken by the NSW government, the ABC reported today on a Sydney University study in which parents of epileptic children who are being treated with the illegal substance are being asked to tell their stories.

I had been wondering why the academic conducting the government research, Professor Jennifer Martin from Newcastle University, had published the opinion piece (linked above) years before her research was complete. The piece talked up the risks of the drug and argued for the Big Pharma approach of finding selected molecules from cannabis and offering them as a (presumably) patented medicine. Academics usually go public only when research is complete and has been peer-reviewed.

When I heard today's news a penny dropped. Perhaps the Sydney University study, looking at actual users of the whole oil, might threaten the direction the NSW government and Professor Martin have taken?

Ms Martin claimed:
There seems to be a sudden rush to make it available, as if the world was going to run out, or the evidence to use it was new and overwhelmingly good. Sadly, none of this is a reality. There is no new evidence.
If that's what the professor and her colleagues think, perhaps they are concerned that more such evidence will emerge from the Sydney University study, and that could disrupt and discredit their own line of research?

Such internecine rivalry is not unknown in academia. This might explain the unusual opinion piece with its several questionable arguments - an attempt to sway public opinion to the conservative, Big Pharma prohibitionist side.

Given the wealth of anecdotal evidence about the efficacy of medicinal cannabis, the parents of afflicted children may not agree with Professor Martin and her view that "we already have safe and effective therapies available" and there is no need to hurry with legalisation.

One mother who used cannabis oil to treat her child for severe epilepsy, quoted in the ABC story, reports:
Within a week the seizures had gone from 20 or 30 big ones a day and 100 little ones, to probably four in a week - it was amazing.
Perhaps that mother is lying, but what on earth would she gain from that? She's risking a lot outing herself as a buyer of an illegal substance. If she's not lying, Professor Jennifer Martin's assertions seem both highly contestable and distinctly lacking empathy.

And of course Professor Martin seems to fall into the old prohibitionist fallacy: that cannabis should remain illegal because there is no evidence of its medical benefits, while on the other hand there is little evidence because the substance is illegal and unbiased research on it has been actively suppressed.

Professor Martin falsely conflates medical cannabis - which, properly produced, has little or no psychoactive effect and is usually taken as oil - with smoking marijuana recreationally. Even the picture with her article shows chopped green cannabis, ready to smoke, next to a baby monitor. Scary perhaps but quite misleading.

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