Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Medicinal Cannabis and the ACT Clinical Senate

Greetings from the Policy Officer Eleanor Kerdo! This is the first of several blogs I will be uploading on various health policy topics.

The topic of medicinal cannabis is currently of great interest to the community and Australian media. This is can be seen by the recent proposed trail of medicinal cannabis by NSW and ACT

As part of my role here at HCCA I am a consumer representative at the ACT Clinical Senate.

The role of the ACT Clinical Senate is to provide a forum for a multidisciplinary group of clinicians, health experts and consumers with diverse perspectives to share their collective knowledge in discussing strategic clinical issues and to make recommendations to the Director-General, ACT Health an
d the Chair of the ACT Medicare Local.

At the last meeting of the Clinical Senate the topic was the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. 
In the context of the high degree of interest in this issue being expressed in the Australian community and among politicians at both jurisdictional and Federal levels, the topic’s pertinence both to the situations of health consumers and to the practice of health professionals, and the legal and regulatory barriers that currently exist to accessing cannabis for medicinal use, members were asked to consider and respond to questions relating to:
  • Possible models to provide access;
  • Apparent drivers for making medicinal cannabis available
  •   Possible issues to be considered in the context of a proposed national trial.
As part of this discussion I was asked to deliver a ten minute presentation on consumer perspectives on medicinal cannabis. You can read my talk below:

Hello All,

Thank you so much for having me here today. I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay our respects to their elders – past, present and future. My name is Eleanor and I am the Policy Officer at Health Care Consumers Association of the ACT. I've been asked to present a consumer view of medicinal cannabis and I will say I have no personal experience relating to this issue. I think it’s also important to start off by saying that there is not one consumer perspective on this issue or in reality on any health care issue. At HCCA we are yet to establish an organisational position on this issue, however it is one that is of interest to a great number of our individual members as well as organisational members such as bosom buddies – a breast cancer support group, The AIDs Action Council, pain support ACT and Alcohol Tobacco Other Drugs Association a peak body in the ACT which seeks to prevent and reduce harm associated with ATOD, and I would like to especially acknowledge Carrie Fowlie the executive director of ATODA who joins us here today. My talk is informed by input by these individuals and groups.

This evening, I want to talk about why the introduction of legalisation to permit the compassionate approach to the use of medicinal cannabis represents an important increase in choice for consumers that is, what medicinal cannabis can mean to consumers and what are some of the key implementation challenges from a consumer perspective.

Two thirds of the Australian community in a recent ReachTel survey support the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes with highest support between the 51 and 65 year olds. For many consumers the use of medicinal cannabis is about palliating symptoms and suffering for those with terminal or serious health conditions that are not responding to other treatments. So for many it is about compassion and the alleviation of great suffering.

On the 23rd of September ATODA, AIDS Action Council and the Public Health Association held a public forum at the Legislative Assembly on understanding evidence based options for medicinal cannabis in the ACT, The speakers and audience included academics, politicians, clinicians, consumers carers and the public. All agreed there was strong evidence for the use of medicinal cannabis to relieve great suffering. With an expert clinician stating " this works fantastically for some people who are suffering unbearably". It was an extremely interesting evening.

 For me, outside of learning more about the current scientific evidence on the use of medicinal cannabis I was particularly touched by two members of the public who shared their stories about medicinal cannabis and what these changes in legislation could mean to them. I will share them now noting that they have been made anonymous.

A 50 something man stood up wearing a suit and tie. He told us he has recently lost his wife, one month ago to an aggressive form cancer which took three months from diagnosis to her death. Cannabis was the only thing that seemed to ease her suffering, when they tried to remove it from her treatment regime after a doctor expressed concern, quickly began being unable to cope. Cannabis, he told us was the key for them in allowing his wife to have a beautiful death. It was extremely moving. He counted himself lucky that he knew where to get Cannabis through his uni days, he could make an oil for her, but not having a legal supply – buying from the pimply teenager on the corner presented it’s challenges and he wanted to advocate for a legal and safe supply to allow everyone to access this treatment and he was particularly concerned for the older population

This was echoed by a young professional looking mother her child suffered from extremely severe epilepsy that meant they had seizures almost around the clock. She knew the evidence that cannabis has been shown to help ease some of these symptoms but how to access, grow, identify the most useful strains for treating her child and prepare this for her was not something she knew how to do. A legal supply and education on this meant a possible ease to her daughters suffering.

Again this is not all consumers, we know that some mental health consumers feel and have experience that medicinal cannabis relieves their symptoms with little scientific evidence to support this and in some cases directly contradicting this believe.  We have to acknowledge that there is no one consumer or public perspective on this.

A legal safe supply is essential for many in an ideal scheme as those suffering with serious illness are often conflicted with the hope they can ease their suffering and knowing they need to engaging in illegal activity or not being able to source the drug from drug dealers in a safe or timely manner.    The legislation to allow for the limited use of medicinal cannabis is the first step to allow a choice. A choice to people suffering or watching family suffering to talk openly with their doctors, to get advice and to try a treatment that may offer them some relief. A compassionate staged implementation approach offers those identified as eligible for medicinal cannabis treatment some options now, while we move towards access to cannabis of a known quality through a legal source.

Thank you.

We know this is a topic that is of interest to many of our members and we are keen to hear your thoughts. Let us know what you think!

Eleanor Kerdo
policy Officer

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