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An engrossing evening about the application of marijuana in medicine

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Over 200 people gathered at Beth Weizmann Community Centre Sunday evening, the 21st of June, to hear from Professor Ingrid Scheffer AO and Helen Kapalos on the subject of medical marijuana. David Southwick MP was MC for the evening which was co-hosted by Magen David Adom, the Zionist Council of Victoria and the Australian Jewish News.

Mr Southwick opened the evening by highlighting the connection of Israel with the topic at hand, remarking that “Israel had led the way in (medical marijuana)” research and application”. He said that the Victorian government was looking into the legalities associated with making medicinal marijuana available for research and treatment.

Australian journalist Helen Kapalos presented several scenes from her upcoming documentary, A Life of its Own, an in-depth exploration of medical marijuana. The project was conceived during her time as a Senior Correspondent with the Seven Network’s current affairs program Sunday Night, when she reported on a series of stories about cancer patients and their use of medicinal marijuana.

Kapolos’ exploration and filming led her to Israel where scientists have been doing research in this area for over 30 years. “The Israel story was just exceptional,” she said. “There have been large-scale studies done with cannabis and cancer.” She mentioned that while there are excellent studies being done elsewhere, “what [the Israelis] have added that many others haven’t has been compassion”. Kapalos added that these advancements must be achieved within the context of a regulated market and that “Israel will lead the way” in the development of best practices that will eventually be used world-wide.

The documentary film features interviews with scientists and clinicians from Israel and elsewhere as well as stories of those who have experienced the positive effects of Cannabidiol (CBD), the medicinally active and non-psychoactive component of marijuana. One patient had been contemplating suicide due to her untreatable, excruciating pain. The CBD alleviated the pain allowing her to resume daily activity – “It’s given me the next twenty years of my life”.

Professor Scheffer, a professor at the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, operates one of the only clinics in the world for patients with Dravet Syndrome, a severe type of epilepsy. She regularly works with patients who have self-sourced and administered marijuana and explained that a number of small studies have shown a lot of promise in reducing the frequency of seizures in epilepsy patients who have been administered CBD.

She stressed that even though “people like it because it’s natural,” CBD needs to be tested in large scale, double-blind trials to determine its effects and safety. “At the moment, we don’t have enough evidence that the CBD will do no harm to a child’s brain,” she remarked. She added that with the legalisation of medical marijuana, the sale and distribution could be regulated. In the current situation, desperate buyers may unwittingly be buying an impure product.

Coming on the heels of the recent Medifuture Exhibition in Queens Hall, Parliament, the event further highlighted Israel’s leadership in medical technology and innovation.