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Doctors Push a Case for Dope

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Jan.10, 00
The Age, (Australia)
Copyright: 2000 David Syme & Co Ltd
Author: Steve Dow
Cannabis could soon be widely used to relieve terminal illness and chronic pain symptoms, with the Australian Medical Association launching a push to legalise the drug for therapeutic use. The AMA's Victorian branch council will next month consider a proposal to support rescheduling the drug for medical use. The branch president, Dr Michael Sedgley, said the proposal was likely to be passed. "It (cannabis) does apparently have some place in easing suffering and pain," he said.
An Alice Springs magistrate last week spared a man from jail, accepting that laborer Nicholas Gallitch, 54, possessed and cultivated cannabis to relieve back pain. "This is a breach of the law that has been driven by the pain you have suffered," magistrate Mr Warren Donald said at Alice Springs courthouse on Tuesday. It is not the first time an Australian court has accepted such an argument.
Last February, the Queensland Supreme Court accepted that another man, also a builder, had grown 150 marijuana plants for use in relieving back pain. Dr Sedgley said the AMA did not support people using cannabis for recreational use, nor did it support people growing the drug in their homes. A synthetic form of the drug had to be found and supplied, and the use of an inhaler was preferable to smoking cannabis, he said.
The New South Wales Premier, Mr Bob Carr, established a working party to investigate the medical potential of cannabis after pressure was applied by the AMA's New South Wales branch. In the United Kingdom, two large clinical trials of cannabis are under way.
In March last year, the American Institute of Medicine issued a report, Marijuana and Medicine, which found the active compound in cannabis helped alleviate pain and nausea and improve appetite. There are more than 60 chemicals, or cannabinoids, in cannabis. One, Delta 9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the major psychoactive ingredient of the drug, and is thought to be the most important component for medicinal purposes. The private company GW Pharmaceuticals, which is conducting one of the UK trials, has developed a process that enables the active ingredients of cannabis to be produced in pharmaceutically safe formulations.
A senior adviser to the British Government on medicinal cannabis, Dr Phillip Robson of the University of Oxford, told ABC Radio National's Health Report that there was some evidence that cannabis could relieve pain, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, muscular spasticity in multiple sclerosis sufferers, and eye pressure in some with glaucoma. "The trouble is, of course, with raw cannabis you're dealing with 60 or more cannaboids, a huge range of chemicals, and you're never sure which is the one that's doing the good or which is the one that's producing the side effects," he said. In people with AIDS, the drug can help alleviate nausea, vomiting, weight loss, depression and infections, Dr Robson said. Much of the evidence for the medicinal effects was, however, anecdotal. Cannabis has a therapeutic history going back 5000 years, he said.