Medicinal cannabis system 'failing patients' says Cannabis Awareness Tasmania

Tasmanians suffering from physical and mental health conditions have been failed by the current system of medicinal cannabis access, says Cannabis Awareness Tasmania.

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into current barriers to patients access to medical cannabis in Australia, CAT founder Lyn Cleaver, of Mount Direction, tells of her epileptic son Jeremy Bester's experience with medicinal cannabis.

Jeremy, 28, was diagnosed with severe refractory epilepsy as a child and began cannabis therapy in mid-2014.

He began using cannabis to control the side effects of a prescribed anticonvulsant which included serious drug-induced psychosis, insomnia, toxicity and increased seizures.

"At that time, his neurologist said he had nothing else suitable to prescribe for Jeremy to control his seizures," Ms Cleaver said.

"When the neurologist suggested strong sedative drugs we knew that it was time to at least try cannabis as a chemical straight jacket is no life for anyone."

Cannabis Awareness Tasmania founder Lyn Cleaver (right) said her son Jeremy (left) began using cannabis in mid-2014 to control the side effects of a prescribed anticonvulsant. Picture: Paul Scambler

Cannabis Awareness Tasmania founder Lyn Cleaver (right) said her son Jeremy (left) began using cannabis in mid-2014 to control the side effects of a prescribed anticonvulsant. Picture: Paul Scambler

Ms Cleaver said it was evident almost immediately cannabis was helping Jeremy.

"His sleeping patterns improved, his behaviours improved and his seizures were far less intense," she said.

After purchasing cannabis online for several months, Ms Cleaver said this supply ceased and she began to cultivate cannabis for Jeremy.

"We have been open open and upfront with Jeremy's doctors, our then Premier Will Hodgman, then Minister for Police Rene Hidding and the then Minister for Health Michael Ferguson. We also contacted Tasmania Police," she said.

Ms Cleaver said she had applied for a cannabis prescription for Jeremy through the Controlled Access Scheme multiple times since the scheme was rolled out in September 2017 and was rejected.

"A panel [decided] Jeremy must try and fail all conventional medicines before being eligible," she said.

"At writing of this submission we are yet to decide if we will make another application for Jeremy to the Controlled Access Scheme."

Ms Cleaver said a tiered model for medicinal cannabis should be introduced which ranged from self supply to pharmaceutical grade cannabis and cannabis products.

She said for her family and many Tasmanians the system was failing at the most basic levels.

"Access to specialists in Tasmania is extremely limited, lengthy wait lists of 12 months or more are common," Ms Cleaver said.

"Patients are being advised that certain out-patient clinics do 'not provide that service' when patients seek a cannabis prescription.

"To this date, any legislation, regulation or policy has overwhelmingly not worked on behalf of the patient."

Ms Cleaver said there was no doubt Australia had restricted cannabis and cannabis access to the point where the current model drives patients to the alternative market and self supply.

"In comparison to the $60,000 to $100,000 annual price tag for a legal prescription for Jeremy it costs us as little as $20 per week to provide him with home grown organic cannabis and cannabis medicines," she said.

"Thousands of us are doing what what we need to do because we cannot access a legal option or because we cannot access a legal prescription."

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