Lismore psychiatrist Harry Freeman is a straight talker whose words may not please everyone, especially lawyers, doctors and politicians when it comes to discussing cannabis.
“The only objections to a sensible approach on cannabis availability and consumption come from those in positions of authority,” said Dr Freeman over a green tea in a Lismore café.
“They talk nonsense, bring nothing to the subject but prejudice and ignorance, and have done so for too many years. All this stuff about the supposed harm caused by consuming marijuana is total rubbish.”
For the record, he is not talking about low-THC cannabidiol (CBD, discussed elsewhere in this issue), but the potent variety of hemp that gives users a high.
“The subject has been moved into the ‘ethical and moral’ space colonised by sectional interests - including the alcohol lobby whose behaviour, frankly, makes me feel morally injured.
“The consequences of the way we promote and swill alcohol is horrendous, and the damage has been proved statistically time and again.”
‘He greatly admires the work of British neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt, sacked in 2009 from the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for arguing that illicit drugs should be classified according to the actual evidence of the harm they cause.
Dr Nutt has written that, “If you really cared about health you would encourage the development of safe alternatives to alcohol because alcohol kills 2.5m people a year worldwide and it would be perfectly possible to ask scientists to go away and find a safer version.
“Any sensible person or scientist knows that the drug laws are not based on the science of drugs. And it’s a collusion among scientists, politicians, and to some extent the public, to ignore that.”
Dr Freeman says an appropriate response to the issue of cannabis - 73.9% of Australians do not support the possession of cannabis being a criminal offence https://theconversation.com/most-australians-support-decriminalising-cannabis-but-our-laws-lag-behind-99285 - should be “decriminalisation with some regulation”.
In the latter regard he advocates setting the age for cannabis consumption at the early-mid 20s: “I firmly believe it’s not a suitable substance for the vulnerable.”
The drinking age of 18 years also concerns him, although he recognises that at this point in time it is a difficult area in which to make changes.
He finds recent research on the clinical benefits of ‘recreational’ drugs such as psychedelics - see previous issues of GP Speak - to be “interesting and seemingly worthwhile… although how ironic that this [e.g. LSD and psylocibin] ‘should first be trialled in the palliative care setting, with MDMA (ecstasy) being used by war veterans who’ve been prescribed just about everything else.”
Dr Freeman is in favour of people who feel CBD may benefit them to consider exploring the use of the low-THC cannabis used in the oils that can be prescribed by doctors with the time and inclination to go through the TGA’s hoops.
“Of course one can simply buy CBD oil at our local markets,” Dr Freeman observed.
Further to this, cannabis policies have been in the news -
One Australian GP to be less than impressed with the nation’s medicinal cannabis policies went public earlier this year to criticise access in Australia as “unworkable”.
The Adelaide doctor, who spoke to nine.com.au on an anonymous basis, said, “the oppressive bureaucracy surrounding medicinal cannabis sits in contrast to the way pharmaceutical opioids are dispensed to patients.”
‘Caroline’ told the network at least one patient a week was visiting her GP practice and asking about medicinal cannabis, frequently in regard to chronic pain. She said it was “too hard” for doctors to navigate the Special Access Scheme (SAS) laid out by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
“The SAS scheme is unworkable from a realistic point of view,” Caroline said. “That process involves jumping through many state and federal hoops,” she added, claiming that most GPs, already under extreme time constraints, won’t even look at medicinal cannabis because of the red tape.
“It concerns me that I can write a script for an opioid, and I can write a script for dexamphetamine for people with ADHD. I can write scripts for substances that have great capacity for harm and which need to be used in a very careful way.
“And yet here is another option for pain and palliative care, epilepsy and all these other carious conditions ... but I can’t write a script for that. It seems to be illogical.
“All the pain medicines I prescribe carry the potential for significant harm, and all have a sting in their tail.”
Caroline claimed GPs have been given little guidance or information from key bodies, such as Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), on how medicinal cannabis could be of benefit to patients or the SAS process.
State and federal government needed to make some “courageous” decisions to improve access to what is now a legal drug, she said.