AMA and drug experts weigh in on ACT medical marijuana scheme
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AMA and drug experts weigh in on ACT medical marijuana scheme

The Australian Medical Association has expressed concern about a proposed medical marijuana scheme for the ACT, calling for more clinical research and for a national approach to cannabis being used for health outcomes.

In a submission to an Legislative Assembly inquiry considering legislation from Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury, AMA chief executive Christine Brill said the organisation's ACT branch did not support the plan and said "urgent investment" in research was needed.

The 2014 exposure draft legislation being considered by the committee could pose a risk to Australia's national pharmaceutical regulatory system and allowing Canberrans to grow their own marijuana risks health outcomes.

"The AMA urges the ACT government to ensure that a clear distinction is maintained between the use of crude cannabis and pharmaceutical cannabis or cannabinoids," Ms Brill said in the submission.

"Smoking crude cannabis poses unacceptable health risks, delivers a dose that is variable and unregulated, and is unlikely to be approved by the pharmaceutical regulatory process in Australia."

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Ms Brill said it would be inappropriate for anyone with illness buy cannabis from unregulated and illegal sources as marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and toxins similar to those in tobacco smoke.

Public hearings on the proposed scheme are expected to continue later this month ahead of a June report to the Assembly.

Last week, the ACT government raised a series of public health and safety concerns about the scheme. Under the proposal, sufferers of terminal and chronic illness would apply to the ACT Chief Health Officer for approval to possess and use cannabis in three categories of illness.

University of Melbourne emeritus professor and longtime medicinal cannabis advocate David Penington told the committee it was timely to create a scheme, following 23 US states and countries including Canada, Holland, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

Professor Penington said cannabis could provide relief from pain and distress as well as helping with nausea during chemotherapy for cancer. He said people living with AIDS, muscle spasms and multiple sclerosis could also benefit. He called for appropriate forms of cannabis to be used with sensible regulation.

"There is now mounting evidence that a version of cannabis rich in the agent CBD offers real relief in young children with a rare form of very epilepsy most commonly termed Dravet Syndrome, which fails to respond to normal anticonvulsant therapy," he said.

Multiple Sclerosis Australia officials Debra Cerasa and Matthew Miles used a submission to the inquiry to restate calls for cannabis-derived treatment drug Sativex to be added to the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Administered using a mouth-spray, the drug reduces muscle spasticity and motor control problems faced by people diagnosed with MS.

The pair said any use of medicinal cannabis required strict regulation as well as standardised doses of active ingredients to reduce the risk of adverse effects.

"Robust and reliable evidence is needed to determine the possible benefits and risks of cannabis for managing symptoms of chronic illnesses such as MS," the submission said.

"As part of any debate on this issue, we would encourage the promotion of randomised controlled clinical trials to be conducted to determine the components, dosage and frequency of either cannabis or cannabis-based products and their effectiveness in managing a range of symptoms for people living with chronic conditions like MS."

The AIDS Action Council of the ACT offered support for some form of medical marijuana after a national survey found 16.5 per cent of people with HIV used cannabis as a complementary therapy.

The council called for authorised cannabis users to be allowed to grow a limited number of plants or for some growers to be certified as part of the scheme.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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