April 2016 media wrap-up: a look at the news on cannabis this month

For yet another month, cannabis news dominated headlines in papers around the world. And while the recent legislative victories were cause for celebration for many medical-cannabis advocates, this news was often overshadowed by a growing focus on the commercial and economic opportunities medical legalisation of the drug may present.

cannabis media

For yet another month, cannabis news dominated headlines in papers around the world. And while the recent legislative victories were cause for celebration for many medical-cannabis advocates, this news was often overshadowed by a growing focus on the commercial and economic opportunities medical legalisation of the drug may present.

From local companies, to internationals touching down in Australia, increasing share prices and of course new lines of cannabis cosmetics, April saw pages and pages dedicated to the dope dollar.

The cannabis economy

The International Business Times ended the month with an article suggesting Australia is entering the billion dollar cannabis market. The article focused on US market growth and economic benefits, and noted that according to estimates, the Australian market may see higher growth potential than the USA, with earnings projected to be $100 million for the first year.

The ABC also jumped on board the cannabis commercialisation story in April, profiling a farm in Tamworth, NSW, owned by United in Compassion (established by the Haslam family) that is ready to go as soon as new Federal laws make it possible to cultivate cannabis in licenced, regulated grows. In the article, Haslam is quoted as saying she is “keen to see Australia take a slice of the $250 billion cannabis pie” and she sees it as a “great opportunity for a great Australian primary industry”. Check out our interview with Mrs Haslam a few months ago here.

Cannabis and the law

In a shakeup of state-based drug laws, Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath announced she will roll out new legislation this year, that will see all illicit drugs considered as dangerous as each other. This means all drugs will attract the penalties currently only associated with schedule 1 substances such as heroin. The change aims to simplify drug laws but appear to be against general trends to liberalise. Queenslander readers should keep an eye out for updates – this will affect you!

Medical Cannabis

In April, Victorian Parliament passed the Access to Medical Cannabis Bill 2015, which seeks to provide patients who have ‘exceptional circumstances’ access to medical cannabis – children with severe epilepsy are due to have first access in early 2017. The Bill creates a legal framework for manufacture and supply of regulated cannabis products for medical use only, and the State intends to set up an Office of Medical Cannabis for administration.

Last month, the Australian Financial Review published a feature article examining the $34 million donation by Barry Lambert for medical cannabis research. Lambert made the donation on behalf of his four-year-old grand-daughter, Katlyn, who suffers from Dravet Syndrome (a severe form of epilepsy).

The article was refreshing in its balance – finding compassion for sufferers of illnesses such as Drevat Syndrome, and empathy for parents faced with the tough decision of giving their child an illegal drug they have heard may have positive results.

At the same time, the article did point out the strong concerns held by some medical professionals with regards to the lack of evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis. It quoted leading world expert in paediatric neurology, Ingrid Scheffer, as saying, “cannabis is potentially beneficial in some cases but has been hyped.” She goes on to say she can’t recommend it as there is no hard evidence of its benefits, and there is good data showing a link between cannabis and psychosis. This article is a good read for those looking for a more balanced perspective.

Cannabis research

On the bright side, despite the focus on financial benefits in April, studies in mainstream media did seem to pick up again.

PREGNANCY: A study conducted by BMJ Open has continued to build the case for the negative impacts cannabis can have on unborn babies of cannabis using mothers. The study examined seven research databases, looking at studies of the effects of cannabis on pregnancy. It found maternal cannabis use is associated with a 77 percent greater likelihood that infants will be underweight and twice as likely to need intensive care. The big message here, as it has always been, is to try and give up cannabis and tobacco use while pregnant.

DEPENDENCE: A recently published Yale study has suggested specific genes indicate a predisposition to cannabis dependence – they are also linked to higher incidence of schizophrenia and major depression. The JAMA Psychiatry published study analysed the genes of 14,000 people, over a three-year period.

SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC EFFECTS: A study undertaken by the University of California has found regular cannabis use is linked to as many social and economic issues as alcohol. While the scientists note that alcohol remains a bigger problem, they say this is because its use is more prevalent – something that may change in countries like the USA if legalisation continues to spread.

EARLY DEATH: A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry that analysed 45,000 Swedish men conscripted to military training, found smoking marijuana heavily during teenage years may lead to an early death. It also found the risk of suicide or death by accident was directly proportional to the level of use of cannabis as teens. While the study was well-constructed it was not able to follow all intervening behaviours, so headlines that scream ‘cannabis leads to early death’ shouldn’t be taken on face-value and the study itself should be read for full details and context. Nonetheless, it was one of the first studies to document the association of early cannabis use with schizophrenia; which interestingly was not found to be the cause of the 40% excess mortality.

DOPAMINE LEVELS: A study by the Columbia University Medical Center has found in cannabis users, evidence of lower dopamine release in a part of the brain responsible for working memory, impulsive behaviour and attention. The study included 11 adults and 12 matched healthy controls, and used positron emission typography to track a radiolabelled molecule that binds to dopamine receptors in the brain. This is a preliminary finding but is consistent with previous work.

MEDICAL CANNABIS: A study conducted at the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago has shown a cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex, reduced seizures in some of the 120 epileptic (Dravet Syndrome) children involved in the trial. Many of the children were already on at least three medications. During the double-blind study, the children given Epidiolex saw an average 39 per cent decrease in seizures, while those on a placebo saw a 13 percent decrease.