A Little Boy Lost and the Goat in the Sheep’s paddock

A few days ago Australia’s Seven Network screened Saving Chase as the subject of their Sunday Night programme.

The general plight of Chase can be gleaned from watching the programme. However this hasn’t just happened in the last few weeks. More so in no way, as Melissa Doyle tells viewers during the introduction, is this “a classic case of what would you do?”. Indeed Doyle confirms this in her next statement.

A child just four years old suffering from a serious disability. He is distressed, in constant pain and gripped by violent, uncontrollable seizures. Understandably his parents want him to be well and happy like other little boys. In desperation they abandoned traditional style medicine and turned to a bizarre hippy-style church for help.

The question rather, is “How can any parent subject their innocent, vulnerable, high needs child to the unverified guesswork pushed upon him by a reckless, dangerous and deregistered doctor who had caused “catastrophic” injuries through administering cannabis oil to prior patients?

https://youtu.be/xs4bhovdfG0

Arrogant, unrepentant and angry with the demands of genuine medical science, Andrew Katelaris, the so-called Dr. Pot is the last person who should be anywhere near a fragile child like Chase. Presently as a result of his disdain for medicine and accountability Katelaris is “permanently prohibited from supplying or administering cannabis or any of its derivatives to any person for the treatment or purported treatment of cancer”.

It appears to be a very thin line that he is walking on.

Despite being deregistered for breaking the law in 2005, Katelaris last year managed to break the law for non-registered health practitioners. He injected cannabis oil into two women suffering from ovarian cancer, in what was described as “a hasty, ill-conceived and unsafe clinical trial of injected cannabis oil as a treatment for malignant ascites”.

The ABC reported in part;

The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission concluded Dr Katelaris put his own interest in self-protection and self-promotion ahead of the health and safety of two vulnerable women suffering from ovarian cancer.

It found he posed a risk to the health and safety of members of the public, prompting him to be permanently prohibited from supplying or administering cannabis or any of its derivatives, to any person for the treatment or purported treatment of cancer.

The full HCCC finding published on October 25 2016 may be found here.

As is plain in the video Katelaris deems himself right and everyone else wrong when it comes to his use, or rather abuse, of cannabis. It’s impossible to call his guesswork the “medicinal” use of cannabis. Katelaris conducts no trials, keeps no clinical notes, takes no measurements and lacks the use of basic statistical models. As the HCCC noted last year in describing his bogus “trial” it lacked credibility, authorisation, scientific legitimacy or ethics approval. The best he could offer reporter Alex Cullen with regards to efficacy was that he sees results. However he admits his work is “experimental”.

Problems began with Katelaris at least as far back as 1986. The NSW Medical Board record that in this year he “self-administered morphine”. The 2006 NSW Medical Board Annual Report includes a compelling paragraph on page 24;

Andrew John Katelaris

In 1991 Andrew Katelaris was suspended for 12 months from the practice of medicine because of his opiate use. However on return to practice Mr Katelaris continued to indulge in use of restricted or illegal substances, including morphine, pethidine, cannabis and ketamine.

In December 2005 the Medical Tribunal found Mr Katelaris guilty of professional misconduct conduct and ordered his de-registration with no review period for three years. The Tribunal found Mr Katelaris had inappropriately prescribed schedule 8 narcotics, a schedule 4D drugs and cannabis to friends, family and to himself not in accordance with therapeutic standards. It was also alleged he breached his registration conditions. The Tribunal considered that the flagrant disregard by Mr Katelaris of the conditions on the his registration was conduct that portrayed indifference and an abuse of the privileges which accompany registration as a medical practitioner.

The full NSW Medical Tribunal Determination, December 15 2005 may be found here. Katelaris could not apply for re-registration for a period of three years. It is clear from reading this document that Katelaris struggled with his opioid addiction and this was compounded by surgery in March 1992 for a spinal disc lesion. His Schedule 8 authority was restored in August 1992 with restrictions that he could not take possession of Schedule 8 drugs, only prescribing for patients at the hospital where he worked. In October 1993 his authority was fully restored.

On 14 January 2002 the Pharmaceutical Services Branch of NSW Health Department received a report of an empty packet of ketamine at the home of Katelaris labelled with a name other than his. On 19 January 2002, Katelaris was admitted to a hospital Emergency Department. Records note he stated he had been self administering ketamine since September 2001. His struggle with addiction continued with appropriate restrictions being applied when necessary. Regrettably for him it has destroyed his medical career.

Nonetheless his problems with self medication are not the problem for Chase. The danger is his reckless use of cannabis on vulnerable patients combined with the conviction he is doing what is right and what is safe. With a history of obtaining opiates for “friends and family” it is clear his provision of cannabis could be dangerously reckless.

In 2009 he sought to “review an order that his name be removed from the register of Medical Practitioners”. You can read the full NSW Medical Tribunal determination here. It is noted that in addition to the 1986 use of morphine he used both morphine and cocaine in 1988. No conviction was recorded and he was placed on a good behaviour recognizance for two years. He again self-administered morphine and at his own request his right to prescribe Schedule 8 drugs was withdrawn.

It was 1989 when Katelaris initially sought for the prescribing restrictions to be lifted. Restrictions on Schedule 8 remained but the Medical Board, after interviewing Katelaris decided some restrictions could be lifted. This depended on undergoing urinalysis and informing his employer “of the undertakings”. Katelaris refused thus the application was unsuccessful. The determination continues on describing his addiction to and use of morphine, Pethidine, Ketamine, cocaine and Fortral.

The Goat in the Sheep’s paddock

In describing his poor insight Katelaris said;

Poor insight, really that I was prepared to stand outside of a majority opinion. I must admit I considered myself very much…like a goat in a sheep’s paddock where a lot of people were content to walk one way but I felt free and quite unconstrained to exercise my own independence of thought and action. I still in many ways feel it is the right of every sovereign being to exercise independence of thought and action but being part of a profession which has considerable responsibility and access to technologies and pharmaceuticals of considerable strength and power, they have to be constrained so whilst maintaining an independence of thought I now accept that one does have to, to a greater or lesser degree, fall in with the herd, certainly in regard to accepted behaviour such as self- administration I have very little problem with saying that without equivocation.

He went on to say he was “testing the law” and was “impatient to bring forward progress in Australia”. When it came to not being able to supply cannabis to others in pain he added;

…but the insight was that I failed to appreciate the authoritarian stance and lack of compassion in the legal system

The application was dismissed and the applicant had to pay the respondent’s costs. The April 2010 NSW Medical Board News included on page 8;

Application for restoration to Register – irregular prescribing, own use of cannabis and breach of conditions

Issue

Mr Andrew Katelaris (MBBS (Syd) 1982) was deregistered in 2005 by the Medical Tribunal which set a non-review period of 3 years following a finding of professional misconduct for irregular prescribing of Schedule 8 and 4D drugs to family and friends, his own use of cannabis and breach of conditions on his registration. In his application for restoration, Dr Katelaris argued that he had developed insight and was a changed man.

Findings

The 2009 Tribunal did not accept that Mr Katelaris was a changed man, referring to his conviction for 4 criminal offences since 2005 and his inability to accept the 2005 decision; the application was dismissed.

As we can see today with respect to reckless administration of cannabis Katelaris remains very much a goat in a sheep’s paddock, unable to accept his responsibility to evidence based science. Despite his penchant for obtaining opioids for “friends and family” it is Katelaris’ reckless pseudoscientific use of cannabis that has raised complaints relating to the Drug Misuse and Traffiking Act 1985. Katelaris admitted his supply of cannabis for individuals between October 2002 and September 2004 was in contravention of the Act.

It was reported today that Katelaris was arrested yesterday and will;

…appear in court today charged with possession and supply of illegal drugs and also having cash suspected of being from the proceeds of crime. Police raided the St Ives home of Andrew Katelaris yesterday morning where they allegedly seized cash and cannabis found in the Luton Place resident of the former doctor. The 62-year-old was taken to Hornsby Police Station and charged and spent the night in the cells after being refused bail. As a doctor Mr Katelaris was an outspoken supporter of the use of cannabis oil for cancer sufferers.

Although it is almost certain that Chase’s condition is not a “vaccine injury” his parents have been convinced not only of this, but that he will die if fed and medicated properly by qualified medical staff. Under the “care” of Katelaris and others he has lost 50% of his body weight and is notably emaciated [See below].

Tragically last month his parents fled with Chase to prevent him being admitted to hospital for proper care, sparking an amber alert across QLD and NSW. In disturbing insight into how the rights of Chase are unappreciated by his mother, Cini Walker she posted a video at the time asking;

“My son is … Do I even own him anymore? Who’s going to help our family? When is this nightmare going to stop?”

Ownership of another human being? Whilst it is likely incorrect to suggest Cini thinks she owns Chase as she might a piece of property, it does yield significant insight into how incapable she is of accepting the role of Child Services, the necessity of medical care and the harm caused in snatching him from hospital to flee across state lines.

They stayed at the NSW Church of Ubuntu [Facebook] until FACS authorities under the protection of police came and removed Chase due to “medical neglect”. Indeed his life had become a perverse sideshow for a number of self-serving anti-science conspiracy theorists. The so-called church was raided on December 1st last year.

Presently Chase is safe in hospital for at least another week, despite the abuse and harassment of hospital staff by his “supporters”.

Unfortunately regardless of where he is or whom he is with Chase will continue to be used as a proxy for the antivaccinationist conspiracy theorists. A poster boy for the proposed magic of cannabis.

His parents are blind to the abuse and suffering they have allowed to be forced upon him. They have been manipulated into believing Chase must not be treated by reliable medical means and are blind to the towering immorality of what they have allowed; ongoing, sustained and life threatening medical neglect.

Only the strictest of conditions and ongoing monitoring will suffice when he is released into his mother’s “care”.

Chase before (left) and after his parents ceased prescribed nutrition

  • Updates added to text on June 1st 2017
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Cannabis misinformation and the anti-drug lobby

The most dangerous aspect of drug use is that the chemical becomes the centre of life, leads to physical debilitation after tolerance is reached, and no amount of drug produces the necessary euphoria – only coma or suicide are left

– Herschel Mills Baker (Drug Free Australia)

“Suicide/Schizophrenia: Consequences of acute and chronic cannabis use”

A recent thread on Facebook gave me cause to reflect upon the impact that the anti-drug lobby has had upon community perception of evidence specific to cannabis, its use, abuse and potential.

This perception of course can be traced in part to sensational media headlines following the release of research into the effects of chronic cannabis abuse. Yet the anti-drug lobby has been willingly involved in the perpetuation of self serving and frequently egregious falsehoods that have left inhumane policy sabotage and damaged individuals in their wake. Worse, the very real and well understood problems associated with cannabis abuse have been scattered by the gale of “cannabis psychosis”.

I should stress this is not a pro-drug nor pro-cannabis post. If anything it is a pro-evidence post and I would hope readers can reflect upon the value of evidence in a human rights manner, much as we do in a consumer rights manner. As I suggest under my “About” tab, skeptics make excellent agents of morality because they are agents of evidence. This isn’t to suggest one is endowed with superior morale. Rather, one is bound to reject subjective and predisposed constraints in favour of evidence.

An effective informed policy on cannabis use should not slant only toward the harms caused by its use but also by the harms caused by the social measures/existing policies designed to control or prevent its use. Cannabis is not a hard drug. Cannabis is not a soft drug. Cannabis is a drug, and as such deserves the respect that science and apolitical critiques can bring.

The nonsense above was originally written in 1988 and has been continually polished and rephrased over the years. Its most recent incarnation was Cannabis – suicide, schizophrenia and other ill effects, uproariously tagged “First Edition, March 2009”. Subtitled A research paper on the effects of acute and chronic cannabis use, it is in fact a biased selection of literature. Not research, nor literature review.

Cannabis “potency” is a key driver of fear and a launch pad for ongoing misinformation. This area is fraught with notable disrespect for variables involved. Is “potency” THC content per volume? If so, what strains grown under what conditions provide conclusive answers? Or does one compare the hashish and hash oil of the 1970s and 1980s (at around 20% THC content) with todays plants? If so, what of the famed sinsemilla grown for decades?

DFA choose to refute Australia’s peak illicit drug body, the ANCD, and their “Evidence-based answers to cannabis questions: a review of the literature” (2006), which concluded no significant increase in THC content had occurred. This was challenged by the unqualified lobbyists with a preposterous figure of 30% THC content from an apparent – and unsourced – 1993 Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence claim. Readers were to be very afraid as the equally preposterous and unsourced joint potency from the 1960s was 0.5%

Could this even be true?

In THC content of cannabis in Australia: evidence and implications, Wayne Hall and Wendy Swift reported in 1999:

The major obstacle to testing these claims is that the THC content of cannabis products has not been systematically tested by any Australian police force over the period in which average THC content has been claimed to have increased.

Well, no, it appears to be fiction.

So why are DFA misleading the public this way? A primary area of community confusion and angst is the poorly reported association between psychosis and cannabis. The most fallacious is the “puff-puff, go mad” claim. It terrifies parents and this fear can persist in the absence of evidence. I must stress that negative experiences associated with ingesting THC can certainly be exacerbated by ingesting a volume of cannabis that contains more THC than a user is accustomed to. I’m not attempting to refute this possibility. I would add however, that user titration gives control to the cannabis user over the amount ingested. In this light a number of claims pushed by DFA demand criticism.

Primary is that DFA claim that the introduction of hydroponic cannabis (itself a spin-off of prohibition’s failure) brings with it [page 11]:

…a well demonstrated dose-response relationship between cannabis and its related drug-induced psychosis, where the greater amount of cannabis consumed correlates to a higher degree of risk of psychosis any three to fourfold increase is absolutely critical in any assessment of cannabis harms. When it is further considered that changed usage patterns, whereby users smoke only the multiple potent heads of the cannabis plant… the ANCD paper’s approach to potency is of concern.

Again, as we shall see below, this is not backed by evidence. What is drug-induced psychosis in this context? Sure, hydroponic production has provided the equivalent of sinsemilla-type product to users. Yet DFA then go on to cite the ANCD paper which confirms a tripling of THC figures in the USA. Quite correctly there is no reason to suggest this hasn’t occurred here, yet as the paper notes:

…the majority of THC levels in studies of [USA] cannabis seizures have remained under 5%.

So the ANCD conclusion that no evidence exists for huge THC increases in recent decades is valid. If anything users have more of the THC rich component of the plant, and less of the THC poor component. Hydroponics ensures rapid maturation and more flowering (head). Per plant there is more THC rich matter. But that matter is not notably more THC potent.

I hate to excessively mull this over, so to speak, but once again prohibition has placed better drugs for the same price into the hands of Aussie kids.

Let’s consider DFA’s claim that, “users smoke only the multiple potent heads of the cannabis plant”. They are challenging figures from 1970 to 1997. Returning again to Hall and Swift 1999, we see on page 8:

HallandSwift_type of cannabis smoked

So consumption of “skunk” or “super-skunk” that DFA claim is driving kids insane increased as much as leaf in the 14-19 year old group, from 1995-1998. Yet head seems to be the main product. Nonetheless users are not “smoking only multiple potent heads”. Which sounds more scary than just “heads”, one presumes.

Under Changing Patterns of Cannabis Use, Hall and Swift write on page 7:

The media preoccupation with the THC content of cannabis has distracted attention from other causes for concern about changing patterns of cannabis use among Australian adolescents and young adults. These patterns of cannabis use, which may encourage younger users to use more potent forms of cannabis, may also increase their chances of developing problems as a consequence of their cannabis use.

This is of course, exactly the point. By pursuing sensationalism, co-morbid health problems and negative lifestyle changes are frequently ignored. That this has been willingly and eagerly encouraged by groups such as DFA as part of their agenda to encourage blanket illicit drug zero tolerance and the public health damage this brings, is deeply concerning.

In 2009 this manuscript of misinformation was used to lobby independent conservative QLD MP, Peter Wellington to push for the old DFA staple of School Drug Testing. Such tactics are typical of the evangelical crusade waged by this conservative Christian group. The Australian National Council on Drugs concluded in 2007 that SDT was technically unreliable, cost prohibitive, morally and legally problematic, prone to exacerbate problems faced by at-risk children, designed to normalise punitive measures and fraught with false positives.

You can read more here about Drug Free Australia and their campaign against evidence. Or just marvel at a school kid’s drawing of God espousing “be drug free and you’ll be with me”. It isn’t just punitive policies DFA seek but a quite inhumane roll back of Harm Minimisation strategies, particularly those involving harm reduction. Whilst it is unacceptable for young Aussies to be under the impression cannabis is entirely safe, we can see without much effort how a spike in reports on cannabis and psychological harm has been exploited.

Claims that cannabis is supposedly endowed with benign or even beneficial properties because it is “natural” are equally concerning. The notion that if something comes from the earth it’s therefore by default superior to a manufactured pharmaceutical analogue is certainly not backed by evidence.

In fact this point is ripe for confusion about the role of evidence, its import and what might be termed insults from intuitive reasoning. Cannabis use as a recreational drug is defended at times with argument from antiquity. Combined with the “mother earth” line it may sound quite compelling. Like many alternatives to medicine (such as TCM), cannabis is also subject to further defence with argument from antiquity. According to The Mayo Clinic medicinal use can be traced back 5,000 years. Yet a crucial distinction is made here.

Research into the medicinal benefit of cannabinoids or their application as medication is quite different from inhaling cannabis smoke and expecting better health. There is quite a lot of rot about cannabis being medicinally magical. Whilst there is some potential for a rather large range of symptoms and side effects, grasping impact on actual pathologies demands extensive investment in research.

As abundantly hinted at above, perhaps the most alarming and challenging theme I’ve faced in recent years is the media construct that cannabis “causes” psychosis or schizophrenia. The primary reason this created so much angst in the illicit drug policy and discourse deconstruction fields was the immediate negative impact on management of the many known psychological issues. The 2007 meta-analysis by Moore et al published in The Lancet was seized upon as conclusive evidence.

It remains an excellent review, and fortunately drew much needed explanation about the nature of meta-analyses and in particular that of Moore et al. Amidst the frustrating and very disappointing bad science reporting to follow (including one of the worst by Australia’s own Jonica Newby on ABC’s Catalyst), were calmer voices such as that found on Storied Conduct: Resources and News in Psychology.

Correlation, as our basic research theories tell us, can never prove causation. All of the studies examined by Moore et al. (2007) were correlational in nature. Further, the additional use of meta-analytic grouping techniques cannot turn correlational data into experimental data no matter how sophisticated the statistics. This means that, while the trends and the thrust of the data seems to make marijuana a very promising explanatory causal factor in the development of some of the psychoses that these research participants developed, such a link has not been conclusively demonstrated. And, while the gross odds ratio speaks of a 41% increased risk, the authors themselves acknowledge the impact of confounding and other variables in lowering the risk percentage in the studies they examined. Hence, we are left without a good estimate of what the actual increased risk might be.

The number of media articles poorly reporting findings grew steadily over three to four years. Diligently a steady number of D&A workers, bloggers and independent media contributors used a dual method of exposing predetermined agendas and explaining the results in proper context. Generically speaking – and I stress generically – the headline “Cannabis induced psychosis increases 300% in two years scientists find”, might pop up. On examination it reflects that a sample with 0.2% predisposition to psychotic episodes had two years later, under different methodology, been found to present a 0.6% prediction to experience the transient psychosis they are genetically predisposed to, had they continued to smoke cannabis heavily for another decade.

One of the sadder developments was the establishment in 2008 of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre. The NCPIC. Coined the National Cannabis Propaganda and Infotainment Centre by a contributor to a professional e-list, it regretfully offers themes well documented as not being efficacious in reducing cannabis abuse. In 2009 NCPIC head Jan Copeland was pulled up by the same publication for dodging the need to publish bipartisan research.

The NCPIC is in the habit of presenting the style of faux science we see above from DFA and also using alarming distortion of facts in their supposed quest to “prevent”. The public is seemingly deemed at risk from balanced information which is substituted with bias and deception. In view of the documented harm this approach leads to it is not good enough for a tax payer funded organisation.

One of the best papers I’ve read is Continued cannabis use and the risk of incidence and persistence of psychotic symptoms: 10 year follow up cohort study, by Kuepper et al. This paper controlled very well for baseline incidence (Eg: self medication of psychosis/schizophrenia, supplementation of low cerebral anandamide [thus proposed alleviation of psychotic symptoms] via cannabis, cumulative effect of CBD’s anti-psychotic properties, other drugs, unstable lifestyle, etc.

In doing so, they thus also controlled for the host of suspected [exact cause remains unknown] causes of psychosis (stress, genetic predisposition, changes at puberty, assault, major life changes, biological causes, neuroses etc). This was itself arguably misused by Professor Jan Copeland who we’ve just met.

Wayne Hall and Louisa Degenhardt contributed an excellent review [BMJ 2011;342:d719] at the time. They noted the superior methodology and also that:

In the light of these findings and those of earlier studies, it is likely that cannabis use precipitates schizophrenia in people who are vulnerable because of a personal or family history of schizophrenia… A modelling study suggests that we would need to prevent 2018-4530 young people in the United Kingdom from becoming regular cannabis users to prevent one case of schizophrenia, or to prevent four to five times as many (10,000-23,000) from light cannabis use to achieve the same result.

Of course schizophrenia is a disease with a clear diagnosis. Psychosis is a transient symptom with a much less clear delineation. What’s certain is that the term is misused and frequently in the manner suggesting cannabis use/abuse leads to a permanent state of psychosis.

Copeland is quoted in an article for The Drum by Quentin Dempster:

Professor Jan Copeland, director of the NCPIC  a government-backed preventative agency, told 7.30 NSW that if cannabis was taken out of the picture the incidence of schizophrenia in Australia could be reduced by 8 to 14 per cent. She could not be more specific. That guesstimate was based on overseas studies. There have been no studies in Australia. This is revealing.

I had seen the report and was stunned. Copeland had failed to grasp the import of incident cannabis use to incident psychotic symptoms. More so she had failed to appreciate the basics of the different time periods. What she had messed up re 8% and 14% from the Kuepper et al study came from this line in the Abstract under Results:

The incidence rate of [sub threshold] psychotic symptoms over the period from baseline to T2 was 31% (152) in exposed individuals versus 20% (284) in non-exposed individuals; over the period from T2 to T3 these rates were 14% (108) and 8% (49), respectively.

The paper cited mentions “schizophrenia” twice. Once in describing instruments used to collate data and again under “methodological issues”.

I wrote to Jan and rather comprehensively outlined the incident specific nature of the results, to seek clarification. I received no reply. For the record here is the conclusion from this sterling study.

Cannabis use is a risk factor for the development of incident psychotic symptoms. Continued cannabis use might increase the risk for psychotic disorder by impacting on the persistence of symptoms.

It’s important to realise that this association is emerging as a very small but very significant issue for individuals predisposed to psychotic episodes. “Cannabis induced psychosis” is thus better viewed as schizophrenia. To date new trends and good research has been seized or sabotaged for political gain. There are areas in need of research dollars wherein we should despise bad science or exploitation of good science. Illicit drug policy is one of them.

As I mentioned way above this is not a pro-cannabis post. There are a host of reasons including psychological, physical and social to not use cannabis. Although I note it is Australia’s most popular illicit drug.

Which reminds me. There are no reasons to not use and respect evidence.

Cannabis: An awkward truth

A fascinating insight into the industrial uses of hemp and the huge cost to society and environment that the anti-hemp lobby ensures due to our dependence on alternatives. Included are various legislative positions around the world, the science of cannabis as a drug and the misinformation we are fed by vote greedy governments and the science illiterate media.

When We Grow – Part 1

When We Grow – Part 2

Banning synthetic cannabinoids – a “kronic” overraction?

During Questions Without Notice in the Australian Senate on June 22nd [Page 50], Senator Steve Fielding challenged federal Attorney-General Representative, Senator Joe Ludwig over his government’s intentions toward previously legal synthetic cannabinoid products, known quaintly as “synthetic cannabis”.

One particularly common brand is named “Kronic”. Fielding’s ignorance is telling. He refers to such products as being “sprayed with a synthetic chemical” and as such are “designed to manipulate people’s minds”. He further relays concerns about anecdotal reports, which whilst serious are not conclusive. No documentation or conclusive study is presently available leaving quantification and qualification impossible. No correction has been made for the use of other substances in conjunction with Kronic or pre-existing psychiatric conditions or symptoms. It is for the very reason we must take these reports seriously that they deserve proper scientific inquiry.

Ludwig admirably fills his time relaying the excessive reaction of W.A. in banning such preparations under the Misuse of Drugs Act (which provides for a 25 year sentence in certain cases). QLD will move to ban 15 of these products under the QLD Drugs Misuse Act. He omits that NSW is seeking to regulate “synthetic pot” at the level of heroin. One wonders at the logic of this rash action given the well documented failure of prohibition and the recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, damning prohibition and urging implementation of legalisation models [CNN].

More prohibition opens the way for criminals to move from growing, harvesting, preparing and packaging cannabis for transport and sale, to switch to small vials of synthetic cannabinoids. These could be added to any legal vegetable matter or herb, in unknown concentrations and mixes further compounding already known problems arising from an imbalance in cannabinoids due to hydroponic growing techniques.


ABC Lateline gave a balanced report on these developments. When NSW health minister, Kevin Humphries, describes psychotropic synthetic cannabinoid preparations as a “synthetic psychotic drug”, one can be sure he’s not speaking from a position of evidence. Still, “synthetic pot” that’s been with us for four years, will now be as illegal as heroin, in NSW. As already noted anti-drug zealot and W.A. Premier, Colin Barnett was true to form in announcing 25 year prison terms for some offences.

The fact is we don’t know the full side effects of synthetic cannabinoids ingested without supervision beyond the certainty that inhalation of any combustible material is a dire challenge to pulmonary health. We may assume confidently that psychotropic effects are similar to cannabis. And we may ask genuine questions about the effect of significantly greater concentrations of THC in synthetic concoctions both as acute and long term (or chronic – no pun) effects. Paul Dillon raises good points about the rapid rise of availability, of varieties of synthetic drugs. Paul does raise a false analogy citing a synthetic THC cannabinoid – no doubt HU-210 – referring to it being 100 times more potent that natural THC. Had he taken the time to express the need for health responses here it would have been welcome.

Indeed, we don’t know the the effects of 22% of Complimentary and Alternative Medicines in Australian pharmacies that, lacking any trial data, were fraudulently submitted as “evidence backed” and rashly added to the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods by the TGA. But there’s no rush to ban these products or to wage a War on Placebo, despite fears of adverse drug interactions or contamination with heavy metals and poisons. Regrettably, this clip has the standard file footage of unnamed researchers looking at brain scans as the voice over notes doctors concerns – despite only anecdotal stories of nasty side effects. Both good and bad effects are the same as cannabis. Sanity is provided by Alex Wodak and Robbie Swann.

Prohibition has failed splendidly, leading only to the creation of vast underworld markets. Here, we may watch it in action. I support warnings that smoking a loosely controlled herb dosed with cannabinoids is cause for caution. But removing the product from legal tax paying outlets and placing it in the hands of criminals who will now sell it as genuine cannabis – without the risks of handling genuine cannabis – is appallingly short sighted.

Ultimately, synthetic illicit drugs are here only because the certain profit provided by prohibition of already popular drugs, has empowered criminal enterprise to produce them. Perhaps it’s time we began to learn from history. I reject argument from antiquity – that humans have always used drugs and thus always will. But it’s irrefutable that without the lucrative market provided by prohibition many of todays problematic illicit drugs would not exist.


The Global War on Drugs has failed. Synopsis from The Global Commission on Drug Policy