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Cancer patients denied cannabis, made to do chemo instead

Several studies by top medical researchers, including from Harvard University, have concluded that the drug cannabis sativa (aka marijuana) provides more effective treatment for different types cancer than chemotherapy, without the severe side effects associated with the exposure to radiation.

But patients who seek this alternative form of therapy in Malta are denied access to cannabis-based products, on the pretext that the plant from which they are derived is listed on the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of 1971.

One local patient, who asked not to be named, contacted MaltaToday to recount his own experiences after reading an article about the medical properties of marijuana in our Wednesday edition.

cannabis oil cures cancer cannabinoids cbd thc“I am currently undergoing cancer treatment at Mater Dei Hospital, with the usual chemotherapy and medicine they stuff into you here… and I’m also a person who really believes in the medical benefits of marijuana.”

His requests for cannabis oil – identified as an effective treatment for the type of cancer in question by research published in Advance Access, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Germany) in 2007 – were turned down at Mater Dei.

“I would like for doctors to start to think about the beneficial use of marijuana in certain diseases… I have also forwarded to my doctors some studies, but it’s all in vain, as these people are the salesman of big pharma companies.”

Cannabis is not the only alternative remedy unavailable in Maltese hospitals. Requests for entirely legal, nutrition-based remedies have likewise fallen on deaf ears.

“Doctors are not keen on using natural remedies and good nutrition in helping to treat this disease, like superfoods and herbal supplements, which are of great benefit to our immune system. If you see the hospital’s food, it’s like you went to McDonalds: a really disgusting food prepared for the masses…”

Efforts to contact the Oncology Unit at Boffa Hospital on its listed telephone numbers this week proved futile, with one hospital receptionist eventually admitting (when contacted through the customer care unit at Mater Dei) that the telephones had been deliberately disconnected so as not to receive calls.

“We’re very busy today,” was the official reason for this bizarre state of affairs.

It is not known exactly how many patients have requested cannabis-based products to treat cancer. But there is mounting evidence that Malta’s medical establishment may simply be unaware of the in-depth research that has been conducted into the subject of medical marijuana over the past decade.

Dr George Grech, clinical director of Malta’s drug dependency unit, Sedqa, admitted that he had never heard of studies that were published in the British and American Journals of Medicine (among many others) about the success rate of cannabis in treating cancerous tumours.

“As far as I am aware there is research going on, mostly in the USA, about the use of cannabis as a painkiller in cases of terminal illness. Researchers are trying to separate the beneficial components of the plant from other components that have been linked to psychosis,” he said.

Commenting only about the use of cannabis to treat pain, Grech said that local patients were not being denied treatment, because “there are alternative painkillers to cannabis”.

But medical research goes well beyond these claims: on Wednesday this newspaper published a synthesis of the conclusions of 20 medical studies – all published in respected medical journals from institutions such as the US National Library of Medicine, Harvard University and the British Medical Journal – that suggest the chemical properties of cannabis sativa may be useful in the treatment of various cancers and also other conditions such as diabetes, muscular dystrophy and motor neurone disease.

A list of these studies is appended to this article.

Among them is a 2007 study by Harvard University and published by the American Association for Cancer Research, which discovered that “the active ingredient in marijuana (THC) cuts tumour growth in common lung cancer by half, and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread.

“Researchers injected standard doses of THC into mice that had been implanted with human lung cancer cells, and found that tumours were reduced in size and weight by around 50% in treated animals, compared to the control group. There was also a 60% reduction in cancer lesions on the lungs in these mice, as well as a significant reduction in protein markers associated with cancer progression.”

Similar findings were registered in subsequent tests which also looked at other forms of cancer.

Among the different strains that responded well to treatment using THC were brain tumours, pancreatic, breast, blood and liver cancers.

By Raphael Vassallo
Read the full story at maltatoday.com.mt

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