The incredible ways medicinal cannabis changed my life
For 20 years, Warren Schell suffered unrelenting pain 24 hours a day. Then it was gone in almost an instant.
Warren, a business manager before osteoarthritis and osteoporosis turned his life upside down, was prescribed medical marijuana in August last year for chronic pain in his back and neck.
“It was incredible, I couldn’t believe how quickly the cannabis gave me relief,” says the 70-year-old from Young in regional NSW, where he lives with wife Jannine.
“For 20 years I’ve lived with chronic pain 24/7, despite my doctors and surgeons trying the whole gamut of traditional pain relief.
“From the first day of using medicinal cannabis, it was gone. I’ve even picked up my guitar again!”
How Warren found medicinal cannabis
Warren says he first became aware of marijuana while on holiday in the United States, where it is legal for medical use in 33 states.
“When I came back I asked my GP if it was going to be decriminalised in Australia,” he says. “A year later he told me I might be in luck.”
The father of three wound up seeing medical director Dr Sanjay Nijhawan at Cannabis Access Clinics, which was set up to help people who might benefit from medicinal cannabis.
“I could see nothing was helping Warren,” Dr Nijhawan recalls.
“He wasn’t sleeping; his legs were in spasms at night; he was in a lot of pain. Within a short time using medicinal cannabis, he was a changed man.”
- Sore spots: Top ways to deal with chronic pain
What Australian laws say about medical marijuana
Under 2016 changes to federal government legislation, Australian patients with a valid prescription can possess and use medicinal cannabis products.
It is typically used for people with chronic or terminal illnesses that cannot be relieved through other medicines, and is available as pills, oil, tinctures or nasal spray.
Researchers are studying how it might be used to treat conditions including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes, schizophrenia, inflammatory bowel disease, some tumours, and drug dependency, as well as chemotherapy side effects.
Medicinal cannabis is different from recreational marijuana in that it’s regulated to include a higher ratio of cannabidiol (CBD) to mood-altering tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the component that makes a person “high”.
Supply is tightly regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and decisions on whether particular cannabis products might be appropriate for individual patients are made on a case by case basis.
Why debate is still raging about medicinal cannabis
Advocates for the drug say it’s safe and effective while critics argue there’s still limited evidence to support its use in most conditions.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone says the AMA supports properly conducted and evaluated clinical trials of medicinal cannabis to test evidence of its benefits in treating a range of conditions.
“There’s evidence that it can help in some specialised neurological conditions, in paediatric epilepsy, in multiple sclerosis, and the wastage that goes along with HIV and chemotherapy, but it’s not a silver bullet,” he says.
“It’s quite likely that medicinal cannabis will have a significant but very small role to play in treating difficult cases, but it won’t be a first-line therapy.”
- Go natural: Pain relief that doesn’t need a prescription
Medicinal marijuana market expected to grow
Dr Nijhawan says he’s treating patients with a variety of conditions, including neuralgia, spasms, Tourette syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, sleep disorders and chemotherapy-induced nausea.
“I’m a clinician and if this didn’t work then I’d walk away from it,” he says. “But we’ve had amazing results and for people like Warren it’s been life-changing.”
Tim Drury, director of Southern Cannabis Holdings, which owns Cannabis Access Clinics, estimates the fledgling medicinal marijuana market will eventually grow to be about 500,000 people, or 2 per cent of the population.
“In California, where it has been legal since the 1990s, about 2 per cent of the market are using it for medicinal purposes,” he says.
- Plant power: Why hemp seed is our newest superfood
Written by Liz McGrath.