The Acting Director of Curative and Hospital Services, Dr Santus Wari, has approved the importation of 4000 bottles of cannabis-derived medicine in order to begin treating people suffering from diabetes.
The medicine will consist of gel-caps or tablets designed to melt under the tongue. Each one contains 50mg of cannabidiol, also known as CBD. This chemical is extracted from the cannabis plant, but it does not cause intoxication or addiction.
There won’t be any hospital patients getting high, in other words.
Nor does this mean that cannabis use of any kind has been legalised. The drugs are being imported under the same legal framework that allows other so-called scheduled substances to be imported for use here in Vanuatu.
An example of an otherwise illegal drug being used under controlled circumstances is the use of opiates including morphine, synthetic heroin and other pain-killers. These drugs are highly addictive and can be dangerous if abused, but they are necessary to cope with extreme pain, such as when a person has had surgery.
The drug importation certificate, signed by Health Minister Jack Norris Kalmet, states “I am satisfied that the consignment proposed to be imported is required solely for legitimate medicinal and scientific purposes.”
Not everyone was thrilled when Phoenix Life announced that the certificate had been awarded. Both Internal Affairs Minister Andrew Napuat and former Acting Director General of Agriculture Benjamin Shing voiced concerns that Phoenix was putting the cart before the horse.
An ‘ethical cannabis’ policy has been approved in principle by the Council of Ministers, and the necessary legislative and regulatory changes were provisionally scheduled to be ready in time for the first session of Parliament in 2019. But so far, only the plan itself has been completed.
It places strict limits on who is allowed to grow marijuana, and what it can be used for. The plan as it stands would grant only two licenses to grow marijuana to be used in the creation of medicines such as those scheduled for import later this year.
There seemed to be a lack of clarity around the purpose of the import certificate. Minister Napuat noted on social media that there was still “no policy framework, no regulatory framework, no licenses granted, no approvals from any government agencies and responsible authorities…”.
Phoenix Life staff subsequently met with the minister and established that the import certificate was completely legal, compliant with the current regulatory regime, and subject to the same close control as other scheduled drugs.
The use of marijuana-derived medicine to treat diabetes is relatively new. Whatever its benefits, CBD seems to be harmless. Regular use of CBD has been demonstrated to have no adverse health effects, either short-term or long-term. No harm is done to the patient at normal doses. Animal testing suggests that you would have to take massive quantities to do any damage.
Research is ongoing, but some clinical studies have already shown that CBD helps relieve the symptoms of neuropathy, a condition that causes pain, tingling or numbness in their extremities. Neuropathy generally begins in the feet and legs and continues to spread, first to the arms, and then throughout the body. According to the Mayo Clinic, discomfort is sometimes so great that “even the weight of a bedsheet can be painful”.
In a letter supporting of the use of medical marijuana products, Dr Santus Wari told the Council of Ministers that diabetes is causing nearly one amputation a day at the nation’s two main hospitals.
One interesting side-effect of marijuana use in treating diabetes is that people tend to have a healthier appetite, and yet they’re not as prone to obesity as those who don’t consume.
Martin Tindall, CEO of Phoenix Life, told the Daily Post he intends to offer free treatments to as many as 1,000 diabetics, beginning either later this year, or early in 2019.