BEFORE Tara O’Connell started taking medical marijuana, she used to have up to 200 seizures a day, with doctors saying she would not live to see her ninth birthday.
That Tara will not only celebrate this milestone on Friday, but that she has also been seizure-free for more than a year, is undoubtedly linked to use of a tincture made from cannabis plants, her mother Cheri O’Connell says.
Now the mother-of-three says she is willing to start a class action against the government to ensure her daughter’s supply.
She is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of people she believes are willing to fight back against laws outlawing marijuana in Australia.
“I will not stop, I will not let my child die because our government is 15 years behind the rest of the world,” Ms O’Connell said.
“If something doesn’t give, I will launch a class action against the government.
“Hundreds, if not thousands, are being denied medication that could save lives.”
Ms O’Connell said the family had tried everything to relieve Tara’s rare condition, a fatal form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, and at one stage she was taking 18 tablets a day.
“If you looked at an EEG it showed she was having seizures every five to 20 seconds,” Ms O’Connell said.
“We tried everything, in the end they told us to take her home and love her because there was nothing left to try.”.
Doctors advised Ms O’Connell in December 2012 that her daughter would not live to see her ninth birthday. Tara’s miraculous turnaround came about only after she started taking the tincture on Australia Day, 2013. She has been seizure-free since April 3 of that year.
A drop of the tincture is placed under Tara’s tongue and the medicine has been manufactured to be low in THC, which is the compound that produces a “high”.
Ms O’Connell said her daughter, who used to struggle to walk and used a wheelchair, has improved so much that she is “walking, talking, reading, things we thought she would never do”.
She is also giving the tincture to her son Sean, 12, who has a less severe form of epilepsy and is also seizure-free.
Mrs O’Connell said she was grateful for the new life that her children could now experience.
“I personally know of 13 kids who have died of epilepsy in the past year to 18 months,” she said.
Medical marijuana could possibly help these children, and those dealing with conditions such as cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other chronic pain or post-traumatic disorders.
In a controversial step, one of Australia’s largest nursing unions came out last weekend in support of the use and possession of medical cannabis. The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes said its 59,000 strong membership had recognised the importance of exploring options for pain management.
The union has signed a petition started by NSW resident Lucy Haslam, whose 24-year-old son Daniel has also been using cannabis to help deal with the side effects of chemotherapy to treat his terminal bowel cancer.
The NSW government has faced increasing criticism from experts for rejecting the findings of a cross party committee last year that recommended legalising cannabis for the terminally ill.
Nationals MP Kevin Anderson said last month he wanted to introduce a private members bill to legalise cannabis for terminally-ill patients. He met with Premier Mike Baird to discuss this and afterwards Mr Baird said that his government would give “careful consideration” to the proposal.
Over the weekend the NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner finally came out in support of a proposed trial of medical cannabis, but not in NSW.
“I am advised there is a proposal seeking approval to extract the non-hallucinogenic component from cannabis grown in Tasmania with a view to clinical trials to prove its safety and effectiveness. I support this approach,” Ms Skinner said.
Tasmanian company Tasman Health Cannabinoids has applied for a licence to grow cannabis to conduct a clinical study in conjunction with the University of Tasmania.
But Tony Bower, who has been producing the tincture that Ms O’Connell uses, has been trying to get a licence to produce it legally in NSW since 2008.
The founder of Mullaways Medical Cannabis Pty Ltd said his application had been tied up in red tape but he had still been supplying — for free — the tincture to more than 150 families.
This supply is now at risk because police have charged Mr Bower with cultivation.
But support for medical marijuana seems to be growing in NSW with a former “tough on drugs” federal police commissioner Mick Palmer backing it as well as radio host Alan Jones.
The Cancer Council’s Hunter regional manager Shayne Connell is calling for a “mature debate”, while Victoria’s peak medical body AMA Victoria as well as Epilepsy Australia have also backed the call for further research.
Medicinal cannabis is legal in Canada, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Israel, Italy and in some states of the US.
Ms O’Connell urged people to support a change in the laws in Australia and to contact their local MPs.
“It may not be a cure all for every person but they should be able to give the chance to try it,” Ms O’Connell said.
People can also sign the online petition started by Lucy Haslam calling on the NSW Health Minister to decriminalise the use of medicinal cannabis for people with terminal cancer.
Article by: CHARIS CHANG