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More MS news articles for August 2003

Support, concern on cannabis review

Respiratory specialist emphasises smoking dangers

Saturday, 9-August 2003
Gail Goodger
The Otago Daily Times

Recommendations the legal status of cannabis be reviewed have found favour with the head of a Dunedin drug treatment centre and sparked grave concerns in a city respiratory specialist.

The health select committee yesterday recommended the Government review its classification of cannabis, as a high priority. The Green Party responded by saying it was confident law reform was now inevitable.

But University of Otago associate professor of respiratory medicine Robin Taylor said it would be ironic if cannabis was decriminalised when the Government was trying so hard to lessen the effects of tobacco smoking, by seeking to ban it in clubs, bars and restaurants.

Research had shown smoking cannabis carried the same risks of lung damage as smoking tobacco.

If people had known a century ago smoking caused lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, "there's no way we would have embraced it".

Community Alcohol and Drug Service medical director Dr Gavin Cape, of Dunedin, favoured cannabis decriminalisation but said it presented challenges.

While it was relatively easy to test motorists for drink-driving, it was difficult to test motorists' cannabis levels.

However, only a few people appeared addicted to cannabis, despite more than half of New Zealanders trying the drug. It was like any other intoxicant: relatively harmless if used sensibly, he said.

Dunedin cannabis law reformer Duncan Eddy said prohibition was obviously on its way out. Dr Gavin Cape, of the University of Otago's department of psychological medicine, said cannabis was already approved for medicinal use in some American states. A derivative was used in New Zealand to treat cancer patients suffering from nausea during chemotherapy.

Some people believed cannabis could relieve pain and relax muscles for conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

Dr Cape, also medical director of the Community Alcohol and Drug Service, said, when approached, that while smoking cannabis could cause respiratory problems, other ways of ingesting the drug were being developed or available in limited supplies. They included cannabis nasal sprays, inhalers and tablets.

Prof Taylor said while morphine and heroin were illegal, they were prescribed for severe pain in New Zealand and the United Kingdom respectively.

Cannabis could be prescribed for conditions in New Zealand if research showed it was beneficial and could be administered in a safe way.

The health benefits of cannabis had also not been researched fully, for commercial reasons. Cannabis was readily available, so pharmaceutical companies would not get a return on their research investment, Prof Taylor said.

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