• Last year, the Victorian state government made moves to legalise its use by people with serious medical issues, including severe epilepsy and MS. (Getty Images)
The first batch of legal medical cannabis oil, capsules and vapour is about to be released to those who desperately need it in Victoria. But one method will not be allowed: smoking. Why is that?
By
Alana Schetzer

6 Apr 2017 - 2:03 PM  UPDATED 7 Apr 2017 - 5:11 PM

There have been huge legal breakthroughs on the issue of medical marijuana in Australia in recent years.

Last year, the Victorian state government made moves to legalise its use by people with serious medical issues, including severe epilepsy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS. Other states are following in Victoria’s steps to legalise and provide the highly effective pain relief to those who need it most.

In Victoria, marijuana is being grown at a secret location and will be produced in eyedropper, oil, capsule, vapour and spray form. But not in a form that would allow it to be smoked.

The public perception of someone who uses marijuana oil and a joint smoker could not be more different - cannabis oil has been marketed as a natural and powerful painkiller, often for very sick and vulnerable children. Smoking weed, on the other hand, is considered to be something purely recreational and illegal - ‘stoners’, droopy eyed with the munchies.

“Victoria Police (would also not support smoking cannabis being legalised) because the medicinal product could be confused with the illegal product.”

It’s not just the public image of smoking weed that’s prevented it from being legalised for medical use; there are genuine reasons for this, says Nick Gadd, from the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

“Smoking has adverse health effects and is an unreliable way of dosing; the Cancer Council Victoria among others would not support such a scheme,” he says.

Mr Gadd says governments have also run successive health campaigns against smoking tobacco, so it would be contradictory to allow the smoking of medical marijuana.

“Victoria Police (would also not support smoking cannabis being legalised) because the medicinal product could be confused with the illegal product,” he says.

Weed advocate Woody Harrelson quits marijuana due to incorrect use
The 'True Detective' star has broken his silence on the trappings of a cannabis-centric life.
 

Medical cannabis is a strong painkiller for people with severe medical conditions and for many, it is the only effective way of controlling, not only excruciating pain and nausea, but violent spasms and seizures. Despite its effectiveness, patients and their carers have struggled for years to be able to access it legally.

Geoff Munro, national policy manager with Alcohol and Drug Foundation, says legalising medical cannabis has been a complex process, in part because of its illegal recreational use and the image that comes with it.

Keeping the ban on smoking marijuana will help separate its distinctive uses - recreational and medical - and maintain community support. 

"When medical cannabis is available...in some people’s eyes, it will give it a more positive image,” he says.

Keeping that distinction, Mr Munro says, is really important for the integrity of its medical use.

"When medical cannabis is available...in some people’s eyes, it will give it a more positive image.”

The way that medical cannabis actually works on the body isn’t entirely understood. However, scientists do know that marijuana is a complex plant that’s made up of more than 60 compounds. Of those, two compounds - THC and CBD - have the biggest impact on users. CBD is the ‘good’ compound, which provides the pain relief and lessons the severity of seizures and spasms, while THC is responsible for the ‘high’ that recreational users seek.

Apart from the direct benefit that people suffering from unspeakable pain and seizures will receive from using medical cannabis, there will be other gains of legalising medical cannabis for producers and researchers. 

Mr Munro says currently, the ‘illegal’ supply of medical cannabis is almost all synthetic. This is why the Victorian Government has allowed for the cultivation of a crops – which could in turn provide a financial windfall to people with licences to grow pharmaceutical grade cannabis.

The other upside, he adds, is that despite the fact that medical cannabis provides so many positive benefits, as scientists have never been able to find out why, because of the law. This will finally allow this medical mystery to be resolved and could pave the way for further treatments.

“When medical cannabis is a pharmaceutical product, they have to be suitably tested and the ingredients have the known exactly, and that’s the value we’re going to learn about.”


 

The documentary, 'The Truth About Medical Marijuana' , exposes audiences to living examples of the benefits of medical marijuana, while exploring the forces that seek to keep the treatments at bay. 

The Truth About Medical Marijuana airs on Sunday 9 April at 8:30pm on SBS and is available on SBS On Demand after broadcast.

For SBS VICELAND’s exploration of cannabis in its many forms, check out Weediquette on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode right here:

Confessions of a middle-aged weed smoker: Why I'm finally quitting pot
Ian Rose is starting to think his 30-year cannabis habit might not be dope, but dopey. There have been good times, sure, but too many plans and ambitions up in smoke.
Medical cannabis finally fully legal in Australia's most hipster state, Victoria
After a long battle, Victoria just became the first state to fully legalise medical marijuana.
Willie Nelson to sell own brand weed
The veteran US singer-songwriter Wille Nelson is to show his "appreciation" of pot by launching his own brand.