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Cannabis used in PhD study

Dr Graham Irvine, a sessional lecturer in the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University, has used his personal experience to base a thesis on medicinal cannabis for the relief of some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Dr Graham Irvine, a sessional lecturer in the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University, has used his personal experience to base a thesis on medicinal cannabis for the relief of some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Cathy Adams

A SOUTHERN Cross University researcher has earned a PhD after becoming the first person granted permission to use medicinal cannabis to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Dr Graham Irvine graduated as a PhD last month, after spending months as his own guinea pig for his thesis.

Dr Irvine has Parkinson’s disease and suffers from a handful of symptoms, predominantly micrographia, akinesia, dyskinesia and dystonia.

Rather than take the degenerative disease lying down, Dr Irvine found a way to use it for his own academic benefit and to fill a void in the way cannabis research was conducted.

While conducting interviews with long-term marijuana users in 1995 with the National Alcohol and Drug Research Centre, he considered the interview questions to be twisted and ambiguous. “I got so hot under the collar I thought I would write my own thesis, but more broadly,” he said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration granted Dr Irvine permission to use the drug Sativex, a cannabis-based oral spray, to treat his Parkinson’s symptoms.

Dr Irvine found the drug did not help his symptoms, but discovered it was beneficial for people suffering from multiple sclerosis, cancer and spinal problems.

But being his own test subject had its ups and downs.

“Cannabis is a very strange drug. It’s not like a Panadol or opiate. What is does is distract you from the pain. You can still feel it, but you don’t mind that it is there to deal with,” he said.

“I found I did get stoned and it was useless to me. First of all, because I am a Parkinson’s patient, my hand-motor skills are terrible and I would try and position it and it would squirt up here and over there.

“You could not be sure how much you were getting. I would feel nothing for four hours then get stoned, which was useless to me because I was trying to do my work and I would forget things.”

His work has featured in journals here and overseas.

Topics:  cannabis, medicinal, parkinson's disease, phd


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