Some cannabis users report that cannabis helps them relieve the symptoms of medical problems. In 2000, a NSW government report concluded that cannabis could be helpful for certain medical conditions, and recommended more research should be conducted.

Although there are a number of therapies available for many of these problems, some patients develop negative reactions or do not benefit from them. So it is important to find out if cannabis can help. A lot of work is being done on developing artificial forms of cannabis which can be taken as tablets, as the natural plant form is usually smoked, and this may cause respiratory symptoms in some people.

The report suggested that cannabis may be most useful in the following situations: pain relief, for example in people with cancer; nausea and vomiting, particularly in people having chemotherapy for cancer; wasting, or severe weight loss, in people living with cancer or HIV/AIDS; and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, those with spinal cord injuries and other movement disorders, as cannabis may help relieve muscle spasms.

Last year the Carr government announced a trial of the medical use of cannabis. As yet the trial details and the date it is to begin have yet to be confirmed. This could be due to the many barriers that face this trial. One of the most difficult will be around the smoking of the drug. Smoked cannabis is unlikely ever to be prescribed in Australia because a smoked plant product will not satisfy the requirements for registration as a therapeutic good. Registration is required if cannabis is to be medically prescribed.

Although there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence, and some good research evidence, about the usefulness of cannabis for these conditions, there is a lack of good controlled evidence. Further research is needed to examine the benefits that cannabis and cannabinoids appear to have for these illnesses.

It seems quite unbelievable but there is very little information available on how many Australians actually use cannabis for medical purposes and what effect the drug has on their lives. In response to this need the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) is currently conducting a study examining the therapeutic use of the drug.

The preliminary findings are extremely interesting. One of the arguments against medical cannabis is that the only people who will use the drug are a bunch of pot-smoking hippies and that it is just the first step to legalisation. Of the people who have participated in the study so far, a significant number of them have been people aged over 60 years old. Many of these suffer from painful conditions, such as arthritis, and had never tried cannabis before being introduced to the drug after all pharmaceutical options had failed.

NDARC is currently recruiting for this study, so if you use cannabis for medical reasons and would like to assist us by completing a survey, please contact either Julie Hodge or Peter Gates on 9385 0222. We will mail a questionnaire to you and the information you provide will be used to inform this important community debate.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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