Pressure is growing for government to swiftly follow through on its commitment to make regulatory changes to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis oil for medical purposes.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said in May that government’s lawyers had been instructed to draft the necessary legislative changes to allow limited use of the marijuana derived product in the Cayman Islands.
Some cancer patients in Cayman believe cannabis oil treatment, though unproven in clinical trials, may represent their last chance. Medical marijuana is also known to help patients with pain related to chemotherapy and radiation.
Dennie Warren, whose wife was diagnosed with incurable stage four lung cancer in May last year, said survivor testimonies about the impact of cannabis oil had given his family a glimmer of hope.
“I understand it doesn’t work in every single person and if it doesn’t work for my wife, at least we know we tried everything. I would hate if she died and we never got the chance to do it,” he said.
“I believe individuals have the right to be in control of their own life, including matters of treatment.”
Mr. Warren, along with MLA Cline Glidden made a presentation to government in November last year, asking for the law to be altered to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis oil to patients. He said his understanding was that changes to the regulations in the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Pharmacy Act, achievable through Cabinet order, would be required.
The premier announced in May that the changes would be made. His office indicated this week that the process was more complex than advocates had suggested and promised a detailed progress update later this week.
Mr. Warren said he was dismayed at the delays. He said his wife’s tumors had grown in size by 80 percent since he made his initial presentation.
He said further delays were “eroding the time she has left” to give the experimental treatment a chance.
Though cannabis oil is not approved in the U.S. by the Federal Drug Administration as a treatment for cancer, it is legal for medical use in some states and is sometimes prescribed for treating epileptic seizures.
According to the American Cancer Society, “There have been some early clinical trials of cannabinoids in treating cancer in humans and more studies are planned. While the studies so far have shown that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer, they do not show that they help control or cure the disease.”
Some cancer sufferers in Cayman believe that even if the impact of cannabis oil is unproven, they have little to lose in giving it a try.
Mark Luke, an RCIPS police officer diagnosed with an incurable form of intestinal cancer and currently undergoing chemotherapy, said he had been advised by his doctor that cannabis oil could assist the process.
“If there is a chance it could help me, then I have to give it a try,” he said.
Premier McLaughlin appeared to accept that logic when he announced plans to allow cannabis oil, via prescription in May.
He said, “Government is persuaded that it is better to favor hope and compassion over fear.”
Cancer survivor and former West Bay MLA Cline Glidden, who has been involved in lobbying government on cannabis oil, said he was happy that a public commitment had been made to make the necessary legal changes, even if it was taking longer than some desired and expected.
Mr. Glidden, whose cancer is in remission thanks to more traditional methods, said he would like cannabis oil to be an option for patients in future.
“I hope it is not something I have to deal with in the future, but if I do, I would want that opportunity.”
Dr. Krishna Mani, an ophthalmologist who is part of a committee of medical experts looking into the necessary regulatory changes, said he believed the changes would be sanctioned. He said he was not familiar with the research on the benefits of cannabis oil for cancer sufferers but had no objection to the principal of the drug being allowed under prescription for medical purposes.
He said he would like the option to prescribe cannabis-derived medication to treat patients with glaucoma – also banned under current legislation.
“It is common in a lot of Caribbean countries and it is something we would prescribe if we could,” he said.
Though the Internet abounds with testimonials from patients, there is little conclusive medical research on the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for cancer. Even in jurisdictions which allow medical marijuana, it is more commonly used for pain relief.
Dr. Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK’s science communications manager, said in a recent media statement that the organization would like to see more research on the subject.
“We know that cannabinoids – the active chemicals found in cannabis – can have a range of different effects on cancer cells grown in the lab and animal tumors.
“But at the moment there isn’t good evidence from clinical trials to prove that they can safely and effectively treat cancer in patients.
“Despite this, we are aware that some cancer patients do choose to treat themselves with cannabis extracts. These stories can help researchers build a picture of whether these treatments are helping or not, although this is weak evidence compared to properly run clinical trials.”
She said Cancer Research UK is supporting clinical trials for treating cancer with cannabis extract and a synthetic cannabinoid in order to gather solid data on how the drugs can be used to benefit people with cancer.