‘Make cannabis meds legal’

KUALA LUMPUR: Addiction treatment drug methadone was legalised without any hitches in 2006 and has worked effectively since.

The government should now emulate that legalisation for cannabidiol (CBD) products which will benefit patients, say medical experts.

CBD – or medicines derived from cannabis – has been used in several countries to treat chronic pain diseases or Fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disorder and even cognitive and mental disorders such as bipolar and autism spectrum disorders.

Mahsa University Faculty of Medicine head Prof Dr Mohamad Hussain Habil said the legalisation of methadone had also come with a lot of backlash.

However, the process was made easier when the Health Ministry (MOH), then led by Tan Sri Dr Chua Soi Lek, endorsed the move to legalise the drug after evaluating its benefits.

“There was no need to bring the matter to Parliament. The motivation back then was that, by reducing heroin addiction, we could also bring down the number of HIV cases, as well as other communicable diseases caused by injecting drug users (IDU),” he told The Star at the International Conference on Medicinal Herbs and Addiction (ICMHAT) 2022 here yesterday.

The conference, attended by local and international experts, discussed the benefits of medicinal cannabis and MOH’s effort to legalise it.

Prof Hussain, who was also a member of the task force to legalise methadone in the 1990s until its implementation in 2006, urged the government to place CBD under the Poisons Act instead of the Dangerous Drugs Act.

He said local researchers would then be able to use cannabis for clinical research.

“We need to act now (to legalise CBD) so our patients who are in need will benefit from it.

“The policies should not punish patients.

“As medical practitioners, we want to provide wider options of treatment,” he added.

In 2006, the government introduced harm reduction as a strategy to address the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic among IDUs in Malaysia.

The approach consisted of two initiatives: methadone maintenance therapy and the needle syringe exchange programme.

By 2015, the rate of HIV infection among addicts was reduced from 80% to only 3%.

Universiti Sains Malaysia National Poison Centre director Prof Datuk Dr Mohamed Isa Abd Majid concurred with Prof Hussain.

He said by placing CBD under the Poisons Act, researchers could work on the drug with permits.

“There are always plenty of ways to go around it (legalising CBD). It doesn’t necessarily have to go through the Parliament,” he said.

He added that research in European countries had shown that CBD was not psychoactive, making it possible to be placed under the Poisons Act instead.

Prof Mohamed Isa also said Malaysian authorities should also emulate Thailand where patients who relied on CBD therapy were given a special licence.

“This is to ensure there is no abuse of the drug,” he added.

ICMHAT 2022 also had experts from Chulalongkorn University and Mahidol University of Thailand.

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