By Ross Walker

On Friday 23rd October 2015, it was announced that I was appointed to the Board of Directors of MGC Pharmaceuticals and also the Chair of the Strategic Advisory Board of the same company, to evaluate commercial opportunities for medical cannabis within Australia.

MGC Pharmaceuticals has been established in Australia to research, cultivate and develop pharmaceutical grade medical cannabis. I have been discussing the significant benefits of medical cannabis for over 12 months and I am delighted and honoured to have been appointed to such an important position within this company.

With the recent announcements by the Turnbull Government, along with comments from Mike Baird and Daniel Andrews, the Premiers of NSW and Victoria, there is a strong suggestion that medical cannabis is being fast tracked in Australia. We are still far behind other countries in this area and whilst we debate the specifics of the regulation, many sick people in Australia are going without this medicine or are being forced to pursue their treatment illegally on the black market. Companies such as MGC Pharmaceuticals are ready to supply medical cannabis immediately, as we already have cultivation areas in Europe.

I would like to make some very important points about medical cannabis.

Firstly, medical cannabis is not the currently (and in my view, hopefully permanently) illegal marijuana that certain members of the community smoke for, so called, recreational reasons. Smoked marijuana, which is mainly THC, is the psychoactive drug that has been associated with significant harm, including precipitation of psychiatric illness, lung disease directly from the toxic effects of the smoke, hormonal changes, at times testicular cancer and possibly it will increase your risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

Secondly, medical cannabis is mainly cannabidiol or CBD. THC stimulates the CB1 receptor in the brain whereas CBD mainly works on the immune system and the gut via CB2 receptors, along with important effects on many other cells in the body.

I am not suggesting that there should not be ongoing research and again I want to mention the extraordinary donation by the Lambert Family of $33 million to the University of Sydney for ongoing research into the medical cannabis.

The research performed throughout the world is describing benefits for the following conditions:

  • Epilepsy. Especially rarer forms of epilepsy such as Dravet’s Syndrome which can often see young children fitting up to ten times a day. A recent study of 99% pure cannabidiol for refractory epileptic patients who have trialled and failed standard anticonvulsants showed a 54% reduction in seizures in 137 patients.
  • A variety of studies with different types of cancer showed a reduction in cancer pain, reduction in nausea associated with chemotherapy and some even suggesting reduction in cancer spread.
  • Many common neurologic disorders have some preliminary work with medical cannabis such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Motor Neurone disease and the best studied is the spasticity associated with Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Osteoporosis and some auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and psoriasis.
  • Psychosis, depression and anxiety.
  • Chronic brain injury including alcohol induced injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy from recurrent head injuries.
  • Probably the most striking area is in the treatment of chronic pain syndromes. 70% of Australians suffer some chronic pain. I recently discussed in another article the fact that prescription opioids for chronic pain are now leading to more deaths from accidental and intentional overdose than heroin. Another commonly used treatment for chronic pain is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which although are very effective for a variety of musculoskeletal disorders  can lead to significant upper gastro-intestinal problems, high blood pressure and kidney damage.

Medical cannabis in some preliminary work is highly effective for chronic pain with much less serious side-effects. A recent study of healthy volunteers, and also in people with multiple disease conditions using large doses of up to 1500mgs a day, suffered around a 20% side effect rate with issues such as sleepiness, diarrhoea, fatigue and reduction in appetite. These side effects however are much less significant than those observed with other drugs used for pain.

The Thursday before the announcement I received an email that I believe says it all –

Dear Dr Walker,
I am writing to you about my daughter who is 37 and has terminal cancer. Her cancer is cholangiocarcinoma of the liver. She had most of her liver removed last year and was told in January she had somewhere between six to nine months to live. She is now ten months on but has spent most of this in and out of hospice care. At one stage she spent $450 on cannabis oil which helped for 10 days but she can’t afford this anymore. She has two young children and I am not sure what else I can do. I need someone to help my daughter – can you please help me??

I would dearly love to help this lady but at present for a doctor who prescribes medical cannabis in Australia, they are still committing an illegal act.

Hopefully with the recent publicity around medical cannabis, people such as this who are clearly suffering will be able to avail themselves of such treatments which, in my opinion, is the next big thing in medicine.