Court for Cannabis: The fight for a chronic cure
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;
Story

Court for Cannabis: The fight for a chronic cure

Stories/296 , Issues/Healthcare , Issues/Alcohol & Drugs , Issues/Policy
Blue Mountains NSW, Australia
20th Apr 2018
Court for Cannabis: The fight for a chronic cure
For Steve Taylor, growing medical cannabis for his chronically ill daughter Morgan has resulted in a court battle.

It's a life completely ruled by a condition. It's a life where every decision, large or small, is dictated by symptoms - from what to have for lunch to whether or not an overseas holiday is actually possible. It's a life of pain, of embarrassment, of frustration and despair. It's a limited existence. This is chronic illness.

For people who suffer from chronic illnesses, the current medical framework just isn't working. For a disease with no fix we can't rely on the antibiotic or other pill fixes that many doctors tend to throw your way to try and push the problem under the rug. Left with a lack of knowledge or guidance and only short-term fixes, it's no wonder people are left to find independent treatments and self-medicate. In the search that countless people with a whole range of chronic or terminal illnesses have undertaken, many are beginning to turn to one of the only known fully natural plants with highly effective healing properties - cannabis.

Morgan Taylor, 20 years of age and residing in the Blue Mountains, has been suffering from Crohn's disease since the age of 12 in 2009. The diagnosis process was, not shockingly, a long one; being ferried from one doctor to the next, missing a lot of school and dropping an alarming amount of weight. Her mum ended up admitting her to Westmead Children's Hospital where she was finally diagnosed, prescribed some medication and discharged. Not long after, having deteriorated, Morgan was battling for her life after huge blood loss from a vicious haemorrhoid. Her symptoms stabilised from surgery and she managed her condition well with steroids and Sulfasalazine until her final year of schooling, when she got a gastrointestinal infection and took a huge turn for the worse.

Pictured: Morgan Taylor
Pictured: Morgan Taylor

Morgan underwent emergency surgery, and now lives with an ostomy bag. Since her surgery she has been prescribed multiple different drugs, only to discover that their side effects included either the same symptoms she was already experiencing or the induction of another medical condition. Morgan was kept in the dark about potential side-effects from her doctor at Nepean Hospital, including one particular medication which could potentially cause cancer, made her hair fall out and caused drug-induced lupus, resulting in swollen knees and arthritis lasting months after she ceased using the drug.

"I wasn't on anything for a while after that because I was just terrified. Being on those drugs is scary, especially when you look up the side effects and it tells you things like liver failure and lymphoma."

At the beginning of 2016 she went downhill again and was hospitalised with Sepsis, for which she was given a chemo-strength transfusion of a drug called Infliximab.

"Two days later at home I looked in the mirror and my face was completely swollen. I did a second transfusion and it was really bad. I had an allergic reaction, my throat was closing up, I couldn't breathe."

After that, it was a drug called Prednisone, with side effects including osteoporosis, eye problems, insomnia, shakiness and heart problems.

Pictured: Morgan Taylor
Pictured: Morgan Taylor

A devastating year for the Taylor family, 2016 was also when her older sister, Ariel, 22, was hospitalised with severe ulcerative colitis. At a loss for medicines and treatment that would actually stop the daily pain, Morgan had begun to explore medical cannabis the previous year by vaping it which, unlike smoking, heats it only to a certain point without burning the cannabis, producing fewer carcinogenic compounds.

"That always helped. It would help me with my appetite, it would let me eat again, it would stop pain, I could sleep."

The family started growing medical cannabis in late 2016 and Morgan began juicing the leaves after researching the method.

"I just could not believe how much it helped me. I would say myself that I was going into remission. I was putting on weight, I was a healthy weight again, I was exercising, I had a lot of energy. I was feeling so much better. The really great thing about juicing cannabis is that you're getting the chemicals in the raw form."

Pictured: Taylor family
Pictured: Taylor family

THC and CBD are the main chemicals in cannabis, THC-A and CBD-A being the acids that are in its pure form. In order to actually get a high, cannabis must be heated. By eating or juicing the leaves, consumers won't get any of the psychological effects at all, meaning it can be consumed to help alieve symptoms by people of all ages.

Last year, however, Morgan's supply was taken away by police who came to their home, and her father Steve was charged with cultivation of illicit drugs.

"It's just funny that they've legalised medical cannabis yet it's still an illicit drug. When you look up a list of drugs cannabis falls under the same category as methamphetamines. It's ridiculous," says Morgan.

Professor Iain McGregor, Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative which was set up in partnership with the University of Sydney to research and conduct studies on medicinal cannabis, agrees that Australia's current laws on medicinal cannabis are ambiguous at best. The Lambert initiative is a pledge of $33.7 million dollars given to the University of Sydney by Barry and Joy Lambert to research into the potential of the cannabis plant, stemming from the experience of their granddaughter Katelyn, who suffers from debilitating paediatric epilepsy and did not respond to any other form of treatment apart from cannabis. Like Steve Taylor, her father was arrested and charged with cultivation of cannabis for his suffering daughter by the police.

"We have a crisis with availability here in Australia. They rolled out this scheme which was widely publicised in the media that cannabis is now available, however that statement couldn't be farther from the truth. What's been introduced is a scheme that's servicing very few patients, I think there's been about 300 in the last twelve months who have managed to get medicinal cannabis through the official TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) scheme," Iain says.

The choice to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients lies with specialists, who are expensive, have extensive waiting lists and tend to be more conservative when it comes to the topic of medicinal cannabis. They must apply to a board of members of the TGA in Canberra in order to be able to legally prescribe cannabis to patients, a tough process in itself.

"Both the TGA and the State Health departments tend to be extremely conservative. We know, for example, that NSW Health is knocking back a lot of applications. Then if you (the patient) do get approved the medicinal cannabis products are extremely expensive...you may have to pay $1500 a week to get cannabis product which may not be any more effective than the illicit cannabis product you're already using."

It's a completely restrictive process, legal by mere technicalities. The result being, Iain summarises, that a few hundred patients will be provided medicinal cannabis through the scheme and 100, 000 patients will continue to source it illegally.

When it comes to support from the public, the prospect looks extremely positive. According to Iain, 85% of the community are supportive of medicinal cannabis, and it's not just young people. With higher rates of illnesses in the older age brackets, particularly terminal ones, there is a far-spread openness to medicinal cannabis across generations. A survey Iain conducted during a doctors conference of 640 GP's across Australia concluded that the majority were pro medicinal cannabis.

"Getting GP's involved is critical...they're also pissed off about the specialist model. They don't like not being a part of the process. Quite rightly, they say 'We can prescribe morphine and oxycodone and Valium and drugs that are probably much more hazardous but we're not trusted with medicinal cannabis'," Iain says.

When it comes to what is wrong with the current framework for medicinal cannabis, Iain emphasizes that what we need to address in order to improve access and quality for patients is Australia's current model of prescribing the plant, where we could learn a thing or two from other countries such as Canada or Israel with successful models for accessing medicinal cannabis.

"I think we have to acknowledge that what we're doing at the moment isn't working. You don't have to condemn government or the medical profession or whatever, science is full of failed experiments. Let's not bang our head on the wall, and have a look at what a successful model might look like."

With ground support from the public and Australian GP's, it's up to higher institutions to trial and initiate new plans and understand just how much impact medicinal cannabis can have when it comes to the quality of life of people with chronic illnesses. For families like the Taylor's who experience first-hand the suffering of cruel and debilitating disease and the amazing benefits of the plant, it's well worth the fight - which is exactly why they are currently battling Steve's case in court. A Facebook page dubbed 'Standing with Steve' has been set up for the family to raise awareness about their fight and show support for the Taylor sisters and their family. The case has been adjourned for two months and is being sent to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecution) who will decide whether it will be thrown out of court or go to a jury trial, which would cost money that a family with two severely sick daughters simply cannot afford.

Both Morgan and Iain urge that education is crucial in order to advocate for medicinal cannabis, and the most useful action being to write to your local MP to make them aware of their communities' stance on the issue. The more local members that get behind the cause, the more likely they are to raise it in government and support the formation of new legislation.

For the near future, Iain predicts an increase in research, clinical trials and medical breakthroughs around what conditions can be helped by medical cannabis, and even the development of different methods of taking it and breaking down which exact cannabinoids help which illnesses. The realm of research into the vast effects of medicinal cannabis is prosperous, but for now, for people like Morgan, it's about getting a blanket law approved and gaining cheaper and direct access to the only successful cure they've trialled.

"It shouldn't take people having to do marches and demonstrations and things like that for (the government) to do something," Morgan stresses. "It's so unjust fighting this right now when there's places in the world that have it legalised recreationally. As much as my family has suffered, I really hope our case can be an example for why medical cannabis needs to be legalised properly."

To support the Taylor family, like their Facebook page Standing with Steve, donate to their cause and sign their petition on Change.org.

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