Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel Smalley: Hurry up on medical marijuana

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Medicinal marijuana - what can't it do? Now scientists believe it could help cure irritable bowel syndrome, writes

Rachel Smalley

Rachel Smalley says we should be getting on with it when it comes to legalising medical marijuana. Photo /  Getty Images
Rachel Smalley says we should be getting on with it when it comes to legalising medical marijuana. Photo / Getty Images

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects millions all over the world and now a team of Dutch scientists is testing a cannabis-infused chewing gum made by an American medical marijuana company.

It's already used to ease nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, and to help treat chronic pain. And IBS experts think it could ease cramping and bloating in the digestive system too.

So this is how the test will work. IBS suffers will chew six sticks of cannabis-gum each day. Yes, six. I'm not sure whether they'll still be productive after that, or whether they'll spend the afternoon staring vacantly at the patterned wallpaper, but six sticks is what they'll be given.

It makes sense, doesn't it? It's a relaxant, and stress and anxiety are two of the trigger buttons for IBS. And the medicinal value of marijuana is undisputed, it seems. It does ease suffering, and so I don't understand why we're still tip-toeing around the issue of using marijuana in a medicinal capacity.

It's okay to use morphine, a derivative of opium, for pain relief. So why not marijuana? Or perhaps I'm over simplifying the issue?

Part of the reluctance seems to be stigma. Medicinal marijuana is a bit of a hot political potato, and it always triggers polarising opinions about the impact on mental health too. There are those who say it's medicinal value is untested and unproven.

Others, like the late Helen Kelly, used marijuana to ease the pain in the latter stages of cancer. And yet a dark clouds still hangs over marijuana as if it's some sort of dirty drug option.

At the same time, we don't have the same concerns about the wide-spread use of anti-depressants which ease suffering but alter the mind while they do so.

The latest statistics I can find on anti-depressant use come from the University of London and this is just for the UK, but in 2015, 61 million anti-depressant prescriptions were issued. 61 million. Compared with the 1990s, patients stay on anti-depressants for 50% longer now. Some for decades.

So increasingly in a world where we prescribe drugs that alter the mind, why do we still oppose the controlled use of medicinal marijuana?

If it works, and it seems to in so many situations, then why are we still faffing about on this issue?

- Newstalk ZB

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Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel’s career in journalism is extensive. She has reported from Europe, Africa, Asia and America, covering elections in Britain, the United States, France and New Zealand. She joined Newstalk ZB as host of KPMG Early Edition in 2013 and also works on TVNZ’s Sunday and Q&A current affairs programmes.

Read more by Rachel Smalley

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