Hei Mahi MāraMarijuana – Medical Miracle or Reefer Madness?

Jul 7, 2016

Tremane-Barr-circleA beginner’s guide to growing organic vegetable
nā Tremane Barr

I find Matariki is a good time to reflect on what has happened in the past growing season and plan for the coming spring. However, my thoughts about what I would like to grow in the future have headed in a far more controversial direction this Matariki. The recent revelations of notary public figures like Martin Crowe and Paul Holmes having used cannabis products to help ease their suffering as they died from cancer have prompted me to take a deeper look at the marijuana issue. As a cancer survivor myself I have been aware for a while that people I know are using marijuana for medical purposes both to help ease their pain and as a potential remedy in their fight against cancer.

Medical miracle?

Marijuana (or cannabis) has a history of human use dating back to around 3000 B.C., originating from central Asia. There are three types of cannabis species: sativa, indica, and ruderalis, and seven taxa or subspecies. These have been used for many things like clothing, canvas (apparently the “can” in the name comes from its source cannabis), food, and medicine.

The two most common varieties currently used for (illegal) recreational purposes are sativa and indica. The psychoactive component of them that gives the high or stoned feeling is called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both, however, also contain cannabidiol (CBD), along with 80 other active compounds which are increasingly recognised as being of potential medical use. Typically sativas have a high CBD:THC ratio, whereas indicas have a high THC:CBD ratio. CBD has no psychoactive effect whatsoever. The legalisation of marijuana in certain countries has led to an explosion in marijuana plant breeding to isolate and enhance specific effects for medical purposes.

The high THC varieties have been found to have medicinal properties that are useful in:
• Chronic pain relief. When medicinal cannabis is administered, morphine and other common pain medicine doses can be halved, to help avoid debilitating side effects.
• Relief for muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis sufferers.
• Reducing side effects from chemotherapy in cancer patients, e.g. nausea and vomiting. Medical marijuana also helps promote appetite in recovery.
• Treating insomnia, particularly for those in pain.
• Alleviating post-traumatic stress. For example, Canada prescribes medical marijuana for war veterans suffering from this condition.

The high CBD varieties, however, are the key focus of plant breeding for medical purposes. A 2013 review published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has found that CBD possesses the following medical properties:
• Reduces nausea and vomiting
• Suppresses seizure activity
• Combats psychosis disorders
• Combats inflammatory disorders
• Combats neurodegenerative disorders
• Combats tumour and cancer cells
• Combats anxiety and depressive disorders.

“At least the mindset is opening around the world, and funding agencies now know that cannabis, as a drug, is scientifically serious, therapeutically promising, and clinically relevant.”
Dr Manuel Guzman Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Complutense University of Madrid Spain.

The reality is that the research necessary to explore all of the potential benefits (and any side effects) from marijuana has only just begun in earnest in recent years, with increasing legalisation around the world. The internet is full of individuals claiming they have cured this, that, and the next thing with marijuana products (e.g. lung cancer, brain cancer, etc.), and while this may be valid for their particular health condition, that does not make it a universal “cure all” in every case. In terms of a cancer cure, what I have learnt as a survivor is that the only thing that cures cancer is the body’s immune system. As a result I eat, take, and do things that through trial and error I have learnt help promote my immune system’s health.
In other words, don’t (yet) believe the cannabis cancer cure hype on the internet, but when in need it’s probably a good idea to explore all the rational options that might be suitable for you.

Dr. Manuel Guzman, a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, has produced a series of studies since 1999 demonstrating the ability of CBD cannabinoids to help fight cancer in laboratory trials. Dr Guzman has stated recently:

“At least the mindset is opening around the world, and funding agencies now know that cannabis, as a drug, is scientifically serious, therapeutically promising, and clinically relevant.”

TK70-marijuanaThe New Zealand Government is also starting to bow to scientific and public pressure by beginning to allow the use of the marijuana-based product Sativex, but there are some catches. What is not widely known is that the commercial Sativex brand of medical marijuana is sourced from a genetically engineered variety along with other commercial pharmaceutical brands of marijuana based products. Trying to access treatment with Sativex is bureaucratically time-consuming, and also costs on average $1000 a month. This is usually not funded through the public health system, leaving very few people who can actually afford to use it. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the illegal variety of high CBD therapeutic cannabis available in New Zealand. I have heard of an enterprising individual sourcing and growing one of the new therapeutic varieties of the high CBD-low THC cannabis to supply cancer patients. However, it costs around $7000 for 150g of the oil produced from these plants. If legalised, this variety could be grown in one’s own garden, and processed for less than 1% of that cost. Both the legal and illegal commercial medicinal cannabis products are currently out of reach for most people, except for the wealthy or those whose health conditions make them desperate enough to risk bankrupting themselves and their families (not to mention the added risk of prosecution and incarceration).

New Zealand Drug Foundation Chair Tuari Potiki (Ngāi Tahu) believes that decisions on medical cannabis should be made based on good evidence. “We have a situation where science and law has not kept up with the increasing need of patients who could benefit from medical cannabis. And because very few pharmaceutical products have been approved, those patients are forced to go to the uncontrolled black market.”

He urges that a compassionate stance be taken. “Until we have a wider range of cannabis-based medicines approved and available to be prescribed, it’s important we show compassion to those in need. I think that compassion extends to ensuring the police don’t prosecute those patients. Instead the government needs to adopt a middle ground position where it will allow non-pharmaceutical products – and there are many available from the US for example that have a good level of quality control – to be used on the recommendation of a doctor.”

The growing of industrial cannabis hemp varieties which are low in THC and cannot be used to get high is already legalised and regulated in New Zealand, and has been put to many uses in clothing, skincare, and even construction. The health benefits of hemp can already be legally utilised, as the seeds and oil from it contain a perfect balance of essential fatty acids, omegas 3, 6, and 9 in the ideal ratio for humans, as well as 5% gamma linoleic acid (GLA) which has a strong anti-inflammatory effect. I regularly use (industrial) hemp oil and would like to be able to grow this in my own garden, as apparently the leaves can be a nutritious addition to green smoothies. For the gardener, hemp really should be the first off the block for legalised use in the home garden as farmers can already grow it here.

Interestingly it was recently confirmed that in the USA under federal law Native American Indian tribes have the sovereign right to produce and sell cannabis products which a few tribes are starting to do. The American Congress also approved in 2015 the right of states to legalise cannabis for medicinal or recreational use if they want to and that the federal government would no longer seek to prosecute those who grow cannabis. While just recently in February this year Australia also legalised the growing and use of medicinal cannabis. This raises the question as to whether Māori have a Treaty tino rangatiratanga right to also cultivate and sell medicinal cannabis products for their own members’ use (but that is a big can of worms probably best left in the worm farm).

In conclusion with even some of the elderly Grey Power movement leaders having recently come out publicly in favour of marijuana legalisation I believe the time for change has come. I can only say that I agree with a statement recently made by Northland Ōtamatea Grey Power president Beverley Aldridge when she said “I want the laws opened up so we can grow cannabis. It needs to be as free as growing broccoli. Broccoli is an anti-cancer thing, and so is cannabis.”


National Geographic – High Science:
ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/ 06/marijuana/sides-text

Matt Heath: Legalising pot could do a world of good:

Harper’s Magazine – Legalize It All:

Cannabidiol for neurodegenerative disorders:

Grey Power: Legalise dope for medical use:

American Indian Cannabis Sovereignty :

Tremane Barr is Ngāi Tahu/Kāti Māhaki ki Makaawhio. He has been gardening organically for more than 20 years. Tremane is currently a Research Fellow based at the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre at the University of Canterbury and is working on the Raumanga Rōnaki Mahinga Kai project.