EMBASSY Headlines Issue 217
EMBASSY Headlines Issue 217

EMBASSY Headlines Issue 217

Final decision on scheduling of cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinols [Department of Health, Therapeutic Goods Administration]

The TGA did decide on 31 August “to enable appropriate, timely access to medicinal cannabis products for human therapeutic use”:

‘Fit and proper person’ test for medical cannabis growers [Echo Net Daily]

The Turnbull government yesterday introduced legislation it says will ‘ensure security and law and order is maintained’ as it prepares for the cultivation of a local supply of cannabis for medicinal products. It involves the screening of candidates, including potentially hundreds of experienced cannabis growers who may have fallen foul of the law at some stage. Minister Sussan Ley said the amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act would ‘enable the safe and legal distribution of cannabis products for medicinal use for painful and chronic conditions, by giving law enforcement agencies the confidence to provide sensitive information to the commonwealth to assess the suitability of applicants to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes.’

We Asked Addicts and Experts About Australia’s Real Epidemic: Prescription Drugs [Vice]

Australia has a drug problem. But this time it’s not ice, or MDMA, or even heroin. Instead, the biggest issue is—and has been for a long time—the abuse of legal prescription drugs. According to the Coroners Court of Victoria, pharmaceutical drugs were involved in 82 percent of all Victorian fatal overdoses in 2014. Illegal drugs only played a part in around 42 percent of the 384 overdose deaths in the state that year. The majority of these deaths resulted from taking benzodiazepines, aka benzos, which are prescribed to treat everything from anxiety and insomnia, to seizures and muscle spasms. Diazepam (broadly known as Valium) was the most lethal, playing a role in 168 overdoses. Opioids are the other big concern, with prescriptions rising 228 percent since 1991, according to the 2011 National Drug Strategy. As the report notes, since the late 1990s, “it is clear that the cause of poisoning has shifted from heroin to pharmaceutical opioids.” In spite of all this evidence, prescription drug abuse is a health crisis that’s almost completely ignored in Australia, without a national health body or task force “cracking down” on the epidemic.

Victorian magistrate’s radical proposal for compulsory rehab for drug-addicted children [ABC]

A magistrate in Victoria’s Children’s Court has urged the State Government to give the court powers to force children into treatment for drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness. Jennifer Bowles — who has spent nine years sitting in the court — said the endless procession of children through the court with serious drug and mental health problems had spurred her to make the radical proposal. However, the State Government dismissed the idea, referring to it as “forced detention” and questioning its effectiveness.

“Just recently I had a young girl who chromes every day and she’s been chroming since she was 12, she’s now 14, functioning at the age of a seven-year-old,” Ms Bowles said. “It just goes on and on with children who are really unwell and need assistance. The current system has a lot of really committed people who are really trying to do their best but the problem is that it’s a voluntary system. So for young children who have the best will in the world and would like to do something about their substance- abuse issues … they need to attend the detox facilities as limited as they are, and it won’t surprise you that many of them, due to their substance abuse and their trauma and abuse and neglect, often can’t remain at the detox facility, they just walk out.”

We have a moral obligation to allow drug analysis at music festivals [The Conversation]

At the Stereosonic festival last year, Sylvia Choi died after consuming a contaminated ecstasy tablet. Unfortunately Sylvia’s narrative is all too familiar – a bright future extinguished at a music festival that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. This summer, many young people will also choose to consume various illegal substances in pursuit of a good time. Regardless of their personal choice to break the law, most would agree that they should not have to die for it. We have a moral obligation to minimise the risk of harm to festival-goers or “festies”. Health professionals have the technology to act on this moral imperative – drug testing. What they don’t have is permission from our politicians and law enforcement agencies. The truth is there needn’t be more tragedies like Sylvia’s: her death may have been prevented if evidence-based drug-testing facilities had been in place.

WA government launch 24/7 meth helpline [The Age]

The state government has launched the first ever 24/7 helpline dedicated to helping meth users. Mental Health minister Andrea Mitchell said the service was crucial to easing Western Australia’s methamphetamine crisis.

Are Blacks Missing Out on the Medical Benefits of Weed? [The Root]

“It’s time for us as a community to embrace this plant and understand what it means. We need to start helping our children,” says activist and entrepreneur Wanda James. She is the African-American co-founder and CEO of the Colorado-based dispensary Simply Pure, and she thinks blacks are missing out on what she says are the major medical benefits of marijuana. “I’m not seeing black children with cancer lining up to get cannabis oil. I’m not seeing our kids take advantage of what I’m seeing a lot of other children take advantage of,” James says. “Cannabis helps with brain cancer and epilepsy. … We know this plant will increase the appetite in people who can’t eat. We know it will stop nausea. But most of the people who use medical marijuana are white.” “We’re scared to use it,” says Macias, who also has an MBA and owns the National Holistic Healing Center dispensary in Washington, D.C.’s trendy DuPont Circle neighborhood. “We used it—sometimes as medicine—before it was legalized, and in some cases we were incarcerated for it. Now, even though treatment and science are pointing to the benefits, we’re still skeptical. … We’re not sure what the bottom line is; we’re not sure what the repercussions are, especially in places where there’s medical [marijuana]. And then the other question is access to that.”

Nate Diaz could still face drugs ban despite being cleared of cannabis vaping charge [Independent]

Nate Diaz will face no penalty from the Nevada State Athletic Commission for smoking cannabidiol following his defeat to Conor McGregor at UFC 202 last month. However, Diaz, 31, may yet be punished by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada), who are still investigating the case. The Stockton-born fighter smoked the substance, known as CBD, through a vape pen during his post-fight press conference after losing a tight five-round contest to McGregor. When asked why he was smoking CBD, he said: “It helps with healing process, inflammation, stuff like that. So you want to get these before or after the fight, it’ll make your life a better place.”

San Francisco’s private cannabis lounge: leather seating, chess and a concierge [The Guardian]

The city’s first high-end pot ‘boutique’ – with a $100 membership fee – adds to a growing industry, but is Harvest signaling an end to the days of ragtag hangouts?

High, Functioning… [volteface]

The latest study to come out of UCL last week quantifying the link between cannabis and motivation, both acutely and chronically, has provoked the usual media circus that such research tends to elicit.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the press have played fast and loose with the limited, balanced and constructive conclusions of the paper, which show that cannabis does indeed reduce motivation in the short term, i.e. when you’re high, but reassuringly when you’re not high, long term use doesn’t appear to have a residual effect on motivation, at least within the limited bounds of the experiments described in the paper.

Arkansas ballot will offer a new test for medical marijuana [Medical Xpress]

This deeply red state could be on the verge of an unusually liberal move: legalizing marijuana for people who suffer from a host of medical ailments. The fall ballot will feature two marijuana measures, and pro-pot advocates view them as an important opportunity to show that there is broad support for legalization even in conservative parts of the country, particularly the South. The referendums also offer a chance at a symbolically powerful victory in a state with a Republican governor who once led the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. “If a red conservative state like Arkansas in the Bible Belt can pass medical cannabis, then anybody can,” said Melissa Fults, who leads the campaign for one of the medical marijuana proposals going before voters. “People are depending on us. We can’t let them down.”

Questions remain as Ohio medical marijuana law takes effect [Medical Xpress]

Ohio has yet to outline how exactly its new medical marijuana law will work even as it takes effect Thursday, leaving a host of unanswered questions by doctors, patients, pharmacists, police and many others.  Rules for producing, prescribing and distributing cannabis to eligible patients are expected to take up to a year to craft. Ohio is the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana. Its law was fast-tracked by a Republican-controlled Legislature after it appeared all but inevitable voters would do it if lawmakers didn’t. The narrow law has an implementation schedule that’s slower than in some other states. How soon real access comes, remains to be seen. The program isn’t required to be fully operational until September 2018. The law allows people with certain listed ailments—including AIDS, Alzheimer’s, cancer, PTSD and pain—to begin using marijuana immediately. But it’s unclear where they would legally get it.

National Estimates of Marijuana Use and Related Indicators — National Survey on Drug Use and Health, United States, 2002–2014 [Centers for Disease Control & Prevention]

In the United States, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug. In 2013, 7.5% (19.8 million) of the U.S. population aged ≥12 years reported using marijuana during the preceding month. Because of certain state-level policies that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, population-based data on marijuana use and other related indicators are needed to help monitor behavioral health changes in the United States.

A pharmaceutical company is fighting marijuana legalization because it would ‘significantly limit’ the commercial success of one of its drugs [Business Insider]

An Arizona-based pharmaceutical company is fighting weed legalization, due at least in part to fears that it will hurt their business. Insys Therapeutics Inc, gave $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a prominent anti-marijuana legalization group, becoming the group’s single largest donor, The Intercept reported on Monday. Proposition 205, an initiative to legalize and commercialize marijuana, is hitting the ballot in Arizona on November 8. Insys markets drugs for those undergoing chemotherapy treatments, including Subsys, a fentanyl-based painkiller. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller that is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and about 40 to 50 times more potent than 100% pure heroin.  The company is also developing Dronabinol, a synthetic cannabinoid — a blanket term referring to the active compounds in the marijuana plant — to reduce nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Dronabinol was approved by the FDA in July. Though an Insys representative told The Arizona Republic that they oppose marijuana legalization because it “fails to protect” Arizona’s children, a recent filing Insys made to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) tells a different story.

Medical Cannabis Giant Could Be Bought Out [volteface]

British medical cannabis provider GW Pharmaceuticals could be about to be taken over by an unidentified investor, as they discuss options with investment bank Morgan Stanley. Shares in the company that developed Epidiolex, a cannabis-based treatment for epilepsy, have shot up by 22% since news of this consultation spread. Epidiolex is currently in late-stage clinical trials and could receive Food and Drug Administation (FDA) approval as early as next year. However, Alan Brochstein, a founding partner at New Cannabis Ventures, claims that the buyout “seems a bit premature”, pointing out that the results of the Stage 3 clinical trials of Epidiolex are yet to be released. Despite this, analysis by Cantor Fitzgerald has predicted sales of Epidiolex at around £1.4 billion/year in the US and Europe, so it is not hard to see why it might be a tantalising investment prospect. It seems like a prudent move to bag the company at this critical period before its presumed approval and the money comes flooding in.

Canada looks to end US travel ban for residents who admit to marijuana use [The Guardian]

Canada will push the United States to change a border policy that has banned Canadians who admit to having used marijuana from travel to the United States, given Canada’s plans to legalize pot, a government spokesman said on Friday.

The UK must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency [The Guardian]

You’re effectively using the essential ingredients of cannabis right now. You and everyone else. That’s because our brains, and other parts of the body, have a natural endocannabinoid system that is now known to assist with how we deal with pain, the control of movement, the protection of the brain after damage and a host of other functions. Our increasing knowledge of this natural endocannabinoid system now gives a solid scientific rationale for why cannabis has so many positive medicinal effects. And as well as this recently understood scientific rationale, there is a substantial body of clinical evidence that medical cannabis works. My review of that evidence is published today by the UK all-party parliamentary group on drug reform as part of their inquiry into medical cannabis. My challenge to the government is to have the political courage to accept the scientific rationale, accept the evidence and move to legalise access to medical cannabis under prescription here in the UK as a matter of urgency. Cannabis has been a useful medicine for centuries, with known use dating back to 4000BC in ancient China Currently, the government has cannabis classified as a Schedule 1 drug, a classification for substances judged to have no medicinal value. This is irrational and incoherent. The evidence is plain to see and has been compelling enough for a large number of countries to legalise access to medical cannabis including the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and 25 US states.

Cops Say UK’s New Drug Law Will Push More Sales to the Dark Web [Motherboard]

In May this year, a UK law came into force which banned all new psychoactive substances, or “NPS”. Instead of prohibiting new drugs such as synthetic cannabinoids as they hit the market, the law bans all substances that have an effect on the brain (bar a list of pre-approved drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine). But banning a drug does not stifle customer demand for it. In its latest National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has said the trade of these substances will likely move to the online black market. “Change in legislation around NPS in May 2016 effectively banning so-called ‘legal highs’ is likely to see a large increase in these drugs being offered through the dark web instead,” the report, published late last week, reads. According to the report’s methodology, “likely” refers to an “associated probability range” of 75-85 percent.

‘I know cannabis is illegal, but it is medicinal’ [BBC]

Cannabis should be legalised for medical use, a cross-party group of MPs has said, but there are thousands of people already using the Class B drug for this purpose. “I am seriously considering emigrating to Australia, Jamaica or the US,” says Faye Jones. Her crime? Five years ago, Faye was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and after suffering from the side effects of prescribed drugs, she now uses cannabis to ease her pain, nausea and inflammation. Faye – a campaigner for United Patients Alliance (UPA), which is calling for cannabis to be legally accessed by patients – has a raft of places she could start a new life.

MPs call for medical cannabis to be made legal [BBC]

Taking cannabis for medical reasons should be made legal, says a cross-party group of UK politicians.  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform says there is clear evidence cannabis could have a therapeutic role for some conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. It says tens of thousands of people in the UK already break the law to use the drug for symptom relief. But the Home Office says there are no plans to legalise the “harmful drug.” The All Party Parliamentary Group wants the Home Office to reclassify herbal cannabis under existing drug laws, from schedule one to schedule four.  This would put it in the same category as steroids and sedatives and mean doctors could prescribe cannabis to patients, and chemists could dispense it.  Patients might even be allowed to grow limited amounts of cannabis for their own consumption.

Could the UK Finally See Medical Cannabis Legalised? [Vice]

Hopeful news, if you’re one of the estimated 1 million medicinal cannabis users in the UK: a group of MPs and peers is campaigning for medicinal weed to be made legal in the UK, allowing people who suffer from chronic pain and symptoms such as anxiety to grow a small amount of weed and have access to doctor-prescribed bud without the risk of being charged for possession.  If the campaign is successful, it would put the UK among 11 European countries and 24 US states where cannabis has been decriminalised for prescribed consumption. The campaign was put forward this Tuesday after the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform analysed evidence from 623 patients, medical professionals and legally-savvy people with knowledge of cannabis regulation in other countries, and reached the conclusion that weed can, indeed, be helpful and therapeutic in many ways – and is actually not a terrifying nightmare drug. The group proposes that herbal cannabis be put in the same category as steroids and sedatives, meaning that it could be prescribed by doctors and dispensed by chemists.

Professor David Nutt: Cannabis is the oldest medicine in the world – why is it banned? [i News]

So if the cannabis ban isn’t stopping recreational use why keep medical use illegal? The government continues to refuse to debate this issue, simply parroting their well-worn phrase – “drugs are illegal because drug use is harmful” – with no balance in the argument. Many effective medicines that are more harmful than cannabis are illegal for recreational use, such as morphine and ketamine, so why not treat cannabis the same? The benefit-risk ratio of medical cannabis would be at least as great as these other medicines, so why exaggerate the risk?

Medical cannabis: Is it high time for a change? [Independent Life Ireland]

A bill tabled in the Dáil in July has put the issue back on the political agenda and this week Dublin prepares to host a global summit on medical marijuana. But Irish patients who want to use the drug to alleviate their symptoms are still in limbo.

Better With Age: How Cannabis Improves Quality Of Life [Herb]

Let’s face it. As you get older, your body doesn’t work quite as well as is it did when you were young. You may find yourself sleeping less, feeling a little down, and struggling to get over chronic aches and pains. Moreover, by the time you are a senior or elderly adult, you may find that it is significantly more difficult to perform basic daily tasks. Whether you’re hoping to reduce your risk of age-related diseases or find relief for your elderly parent, here’s how cannabis improves the quality of life in aging adults.

Can Cannabis Treat Fibromyalgia Better Than Prescription Drugs? [Leafly]

The National Pain Foundation conducted a survey in 2014 of over 1,300 patients. Remarkably, nearly a third — 30 percent of respondents — reported having used medical cannabis. Of the more than 390 survey participants who had used cannabis, compared to FDA-approved pharmaceuticals, far more people reported cannabis as being effective:

  • 62% reported cannabis as “very effective” in treating their symptoms
  • 33% reported that cannabis “helped a little”
  • Only 5% said it did not help at all

Contrast these results to FDA-approved medications:

  • A mere 8 – 10% reported Cymbalta, Lyrica, or Savella as “very effective”
  • 60 – 68% responded those drugs “[did] not help at all”

No wonder “big pharma” is scared of cannabis! In the hierarchy of evidence, a survey is not weighted the same as a random-controlled trial (RCT). However, given the relative safety profile of cannabis and absence of adverse side effects compared to the FDA-approved medications, the data clearly suggests more research is warranted.

Have we always got high for God? [BBC]

Where do babies come from? Answer: marijuana. According to ancient Germanic pagans. For them weed and the Norse love goddess Freya went hand in hand. It was believed that the cannabis flowers contained Freya’s divine energy, and they would give sexual powers to those who consumed them. Both men and women would harvest and eat the plant at the ironically titled “High Festival”, hoping to raise fertility levels and make babies.

Australia’s Health 2016 [Australian Institute of Health & Welfare]

Australia’s health 2016 is the 15th biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. This edition profiles current health issues in a collection of feature articles and statistical snapshots that cover a range of areas, including: The health status of Australians; Health expenditure; The major causes of ill health; Determinants of health; Health through the life course; Health of Indigenous Australians; Preventing and treating ill health; Health system performance.


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