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  • Olivia campaigned for cannabis to the end

    Author: AAP

Right up until her death, Olivia Newton-John was lobbying for increased access to the drug she swore by.

The actress, singer and cancer campaigner, who died earlier this month aged 73, grew cannabis on her ranch and used it to help alleviate her own symptoms, describing the herb as the "magical miracle plant".

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It has since been revealed Newton-John was planning to pen an introductory letter to Victoria's new health minister, her federal counterpart and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to continue her push to greater access to the drug for people suffering from chronic illnesses.

While there's still limited research into its efficacy, nearly a quarter of a million prescriptions for medicinal cannabis have been issued in Australia since its legalisation in 2016, the majority since early 2021.

They have been for the treatment of a wide range of conditions, most commonly pain, anxiety and sleep problems.


Despite the sharp rise in the use of medicinal cannabis, though, there is still stigma attached to the drug that can make some doctors reluctant to prescribe it.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation is campaigning for expanded access. It supports and wants to further educate its members around use for evidence-based therapeutic purposes.

It has also called for "large scale, high quality clinical trials" and says approved cannabis products should be "accessible and affordable".

Getting more nurses involved would be a game-changer for acceptance because they are on the front line of care, according to Justin Sinclair, chief scientific officer at Australian Natural Therapeutic Group.

"They have a close relationship with patients and will naturally have those conversations which can educate them on the potential benefits and/or side effects of treatment," he says.

One former nurse was instrumental in the legalisation of medicinal cannabis after witnessing what it did for her terminally ill son.

Tamworth-based Lucy Haslam's medical training taught her cannabis was a dangerous gateway drug that caused schizophrenia.

Her husband Lou had been a police officer for 35 years, mostly with the drug squad.

Their backgrounds meant illegally scoring thousands of dollars-worth of cannabis for their son Dan was a departure from everything they believed in.

But he was dying of bowel cancer and his parents would do anything to banish the pain.

"He was really ill. He was losing a lot of weight, anxious, very distressed and not eating," Ms Haslam says.

"He would get a lot of vomiting when he had chemotherapy and even just the thought of it would make him sick. Things were pretty grim and we were pretty desperate."

A friend also suffering bowel cancer introduced them to the drug and the next time Dan went through treatment he tried a joint after coming home from hospital.

"Within minutes the colour came back in his face and he started to feel better," Ms Haslam says.

"He actually asked for something to eat that day and we were shocked. He normally wouldn't eat for several days and he would lose a lot of weight.

"It gave him a quality of life we thought he'd lost for good and wouldn't get back."

While the Haslams asked around discreetly for where to buy more, they didn't enjoy feeling like criminals.

"We felt quite vulnerable because of my husband's position - he had locked people up over many years for using cannabis - we thought we might experience a bit of a backlash," Ms Haslam says.

"But it was quite the opposite. Our community was fantastic."

The Haslams spoke to their state and federal MPs and the local newspaper and began a campaign that culminated in medicinal cannabis being legalised in Australia.

The laws weren't passed until a year after Dan died aged 25 but Ms Haslam says he still got to enjoy "the best two years of his life", travelling the world and marrying his university girlfriend with the help of the drug.

But legalisation alone doesn't go far enough, she says.

She is backing the push to empower nurses to administer the drug and give more people the same opportunities as her son.


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