Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Photo: Cannabis II/ Dave H/Flickr
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, has a long history of use as a medicine. Worldwide it is being taken, often illegally, not only by terminally ill people wishing to reduce symptoms but by those seeking treatment for cancer, multiple sclerosis epilepsy and other serious and painful diseases.
Dr Andrew Katelaris MD is a medical researcher who has been investigating cannabis therapeutics since 1995. Formerly a hospital based medico he was de-registered in 2005 for continuing this research against the directive of the medical board. His current research interest is in developing better seizure medication.
He is specifically refining the use of cannabis plant varieties that are cannabidiol-dominant. Cannabidiol (CBD) is non-psychoactive, which means it doesn’t leave users “high” in the same way cannabis dominant in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does.
Dr Katelaris has just concluded a trial pilot study using high CBC varieties of cannabis. Twelve epileptic children with intractable forms of the disease took part in the three-month study after all methods of conventional medical treatment had been exhausted. The children were administered an infusion of cannabis in refined coconut oil.
By the time they had finished the trial, the condition of all of the children had improved, with at least 70 per cent experiencing fewer epileptic episodes. Some showed noticeable advances in social interaction and gross motor skills during the trial. The results were very promising, Dr Katelaris said.
“This is the first good news for parents with children afflicted with intractable epilepsy, who till now must suffer not only their affliction, but the severe toxic effects of the ineffective polypharmacy.”
In other parts of the world doctors are exploring the use of the plant-based remedy as a treatment option for many pathologies, including cancer. Dr Christina Sanchez, a molecular biologist at Compultense University in Spain, has researched the role of endo-cannabinoids and the therapeutic value of cannabinoids in marijuana. Endo-cannabinoids are naturally produced in our bodies and activate the same receptor sites as (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
After treatment with cannabinoid-based medicines cancer cells were “committing suicide” she said. “At this point we have enough pre-clinical evidence supporting the idea that cannabinoids may have anti-tumour properties.”
Dr Sanchez said our internal endo-cannabinoids system regulates biological functions including appetite, reproduction, motor function and food intake, one reason the plant has such a wide therapeutic potential. Oncologists, neuro-oncologists and breast specialists in Spain were ready to test compounds in human patients, she said.
But Dr Katelaris advises caution. “It’s early days in the treatment of cancer with cannabis. There is a lot of exaggeration about its success,” he said.
In October 2003 the U.S.A federal government took out patent No# 6,630,507 on cannabinoid compounds in cannabis due to their antioxidants and neuro-protective properties. Some countries such as the Netherlands, Canada, Israel and some American states allow some use of crude cannabis for medicinal purposes.
The decriminalisation of medical cannabis and its use as a treatment for the terminally ill was put back on the table last month when the NSW Baird government responded to strong pressure from the community. A working party has formed to look at setting up a clinical trial to better understand the role the controversial plant can play.
“We want the terminally ill to have greater peace of mind. We do not want carers having to watch their loved ones suffer when their distress could be alleviated,” Premier Baird said.
Lou, Daniel, Lucy Haslam and Dan’s wife Alyce. Photo: Geoff O’Neill, Courtesy of the Haslam’s
Lucy Haslam, whose son Daniel used cannabis to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy when treated for bowel cancer and now uses the oil, hopes cannabis can also be legally offered to non-terminal patients for treatment of their conditions and pain management. Mrs Haslam lobbied the State government after Daniel’s diagnosis to decriminalise medical cannabis use. Commenting on a proposed bill to this effect she said that “Politicians felt the bill had a better chance of being adopted if it was very narrow in scope,” “The hope is that once adopted the terms of reference could be expanded to other groups.” she continued.
The use of medical cannabis to treat a person before they become terminally ill “makes great sense”, Mrs Haslam says.
“I am sure it will be the way of the future.”