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Netflix Documentary Argues that Cannabis can Save Lives

By Roland Sebestyén

How far would you go for a child who’s suffering from a very aggressive type of brain cancer? What would you do if doctors told you he roughly had eight months to live? Netflix’s critically acclaimed documentary, Weed the People is following desperate families who are running out of time and have no choice but to turn to alternative options. The new Netflix documentary follows the stories of families who have turned to medical cannabis.

“Is [cannabis] a medicine? It’s been medicine for thousands of years. It only hasn’t been medicine in [the US] for 70 years.”

During the documentary’s 97-minute running time, which is full of disturbing and infuriating quotes, this, above, takes the cake.

In the US, the use of medicinal cannabis was accepted and widely acknowledged for its benefits among doctors.

However, The Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 was a prohibition law out of fear regarding the recreational use of cannabis. Cannabis had been used as a treatment for many conditions, including neuralgia, alcoholism, opiate addiction, and even snakebite.

Although the bill aimed to prohibit any kind of non-medical usage, it also had a big impact on the medical use of the drug. Regardless of The American Medical Association’s argument about the lack of available substitutes, cannabis was removed from the United States Pharmacopeia.

In a nutshell, this is why people in the US have been denied treatment that might have had an impact on their wellbeing; treatment that might have had, in several cases, saved their lives.

Even though, in 2020, there are 33 states where medical use of cannabis is legal, the industry still has to fight against prejudice and preconception.

Weed the People was brave enough to break the stigma and ask the questions others hadn’t before.

Is cannabis an anti-cancer agent?

Sophie Ryan was just a baby when doctors diagnosed her with Optic Pathway Glioma. That is an extremely serious brain tumour that forms around the optic nerve. The tumour, in some cases, can cause blindness.

Sophie’s parents were adamant that they didn’t want her to get chemotherapy, so they were after an alternative treatment.

Her mother, Tracy Ryan, was against cannabis. However, they chose to give it a try:

“Literally 1,000 stars had to align for us to finally change our minds on cannabis. That was the only thing we just completely dismissed and refused to research because we thought it was so ridiculous.”

This is how they found Mara Gordon, the founder of Aunt Zelda’s Inc. The Ryans eventually chose to go along although they knew Ms. Gordon didn’t have medical training.

Although experts and researchers are still in the dark about cannabis as there is not enough thorough research available, some claim that cannabis’ beneficial effects are extraordinary.

Amanda Reiman, a drug policy expert, said:

“People have been using cannabis as a medicine for 5,000 years.

She continued: “THC has always been the star of the show because it’s the most psychoactive. But then research started showing that there were a lot of other cannabinoids in the plant that had as many, if not more, therapeutic effects.”

Furthermore, many researchers believe that cannabis is reducing problems with opioids and other pharmaceuticals. Opioid addiction and overdose can be a real danger during cancer treatment.

The bad news, however, is although the first evidence that cannabis may have anti-cancer activity came from the National Cancer Institute in 1974, experts claim those lines of investigation somehow disappeared.

It’s a vicious cycle that remains as long as cannabis is classed as a Schedule I drug in the US. Schedule I means research and trials are restricted by the law.

Although in 33 US states the use of medicinal cannabis is legal, in 2016 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reaffirmed its position and refused to remove Schedule I classification.

Raphael Mechoulam, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, said:

“It seems to be so important that a group at NIH published a review and said that the endocannabinoid system is involved in essentially all human diseases. The cannabis plant compounds called cannabinoids work at those receptors.”

Mark Ware, MD, Pain Medicine, and Neurology added: “When you take cannabinoid in from outside by smoking or vaporising or eating or pharmaceutical, you are somehow tinkering with that system and adjusting the way in which those nerves and muscles and communication happen.”

But somehow the attitude towards cannabis is changing too slowly. In this respect, Weed the People aims to also show the other side of the argument.

The directors were able to find the right balance. As there is still an awful lot of dark spots, it was important to display that cannabis, on its own, might not be able to treat cancer.

The movie’s most moving bits were when Sophie’s doctor called in to tell her parents that she would need chemo straight away – regardless of continuing with the cannabis treatment.

According to the end credit, fortunately, both Sophie and another child, who was given traditional and cannabis treatment, will likely be able to live a healthy life.

On the other hand, the medical cannabis documentary also shows another young child who had been given eight months to live. He was getting traditional treatment and medicinal cannabis but sadly passed away.

As long as meaningful research into the potential of medical cannabis is restricted, families, doctors, and medical experts will remain in the dark.

Netflix’s critically acclaimed documentary, Weed the People is following desperate families who are turning to alternative treatments like cannabis.

‘Green Light’: New doco reveals story of two Aussies breaking the law to supply medicinal cannabis

Nicholas Morley and his associate Luke don’t need to spend a cent on advertising for their service that’s attracted more than 15,000 Australians.

Actually, even if they wanted to advertise, they can’t.

“We’ve never gone looking for attention,” Luke told Hack, “They’ve just come to us.”

Nick and Luke’s work isn’t conventional by any means – they spend their days openly breaking the law to supply medicinal cannabis oil to chronic and terminally ill patients around the country.

Even though medicinal cannabis is now legal in Australia, Nick and Luke say the government-run scheme is often hampered by red tape, long waiting times, and prohibitive out-of-pocket costs.

Which is where their underground operation – where customers pay for Nick and Luke’s service, not the cannabis itself – comes in.

“We try and just look at this as a health issue and as a human rights issue more so than a criminal issue,” Nick says.

“We carry that duty with as much grace as we can in the face of the situation as it is – it being illegal, what we’re doing.”

‘Green Light’ film reveals Nick and Luke’s operation

Green Light, a new documentary produced and directed by Ned Donohue, follows Nick and Luke’s work as medicinal cannabis suppliers for patients who have tried “everything else”.

The pair supply and treat a man with a genetic bone disease, a baby with cancer, and even a horse – among many other patients.

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Nick, who self-medicated cannabis for his depression, said the drug was a “game-changer” for his health, and realised there must be more people like him out there.

“If the government’s not going to make it available, someone’s got to do it,” Nick says.

Since starting their operation, the federal government has made medicinal cannabis legal, but Nick and Luke say they’ve supplied more patients with cannabis oil than the federal Special Access scheme.

Nick and Luke admit that they’re not doctors, and they encourage all their clients to speak to their doctor before using the cannabis oil they’re supplied with.

“We’re not registered healthcare professionals and our training, I would say is not adequate. Nor is it comparable to that of a doctor, for instance,” Luke explains.

“A doctor is trying to make very highly educated guesses. Now we make guesses based on experience and support of the medical professionals and other people out there who help us to make these decisions.

“But is it a worry? Yes. Do we feel like the medicines themselves are unsafe? No, because the medicine we use, the cannabis oil extracts are GMP certified, they’re organic sun grind, they’re actually of higher quality than what the legal people are able to provide at this point in time.”

Luke says he hopes their phones “stop ringing” – it’ll be a signal that their job is done, and the government-run scheme is working. But for now, there’s still a gap.

We wouldn’t keep doing it unless there are some people who survived beyond all the odds, and are able to then go out and live lives that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Nick and Luke both admit that with the release of Green Light, in cinemas from Thursday, authorities could come knocking to shut their operation down. Luke says he hopes the police’s “discretionary powers” keep them from facing charges.

“I hope that they can see that there’s far greater issues out there like methamphetamine – the widespread use and abuse of that. There’s an ice epidemic in Northern NSW.”

For Nick, stopping their medicinal cannabis service would be worse than a criminal charge.

“I’d feel like a criminal if I stopped doing it,” Nick says in Green Light.

"We try and just look at this as a health issue and as a human rights issue."