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Wednesday, 16 August 1972
Page: 126

Senator WHEELDON asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:

Is the Minister aware of the report entitled 'On the Dangers of Cannabis', which is Australia's first detailed review of world scientific knowledge on the effect of cannabis, the main drug contained in marihuana and hashish; if so, did this report, by Dr G. B. Chesher of the University of Sydney's Pharmacology Department, state that:

(a)   cannabis is not a drug of addiction,

(b)   there is no truth in the contention that cannabis use led to the use of narcotic drugs,

(c)   the most serious adverse effects of cannabis on its users is that they become vulnerable to prosecution and penalty,

(d)   adverse effects on physical health from the long term use of the drug has not been satisfactorily demonstrated,

(e)   cancer producing substances in cannabis smoke occur in a concentration of less than half that in tobacco smoke, and tobacco use is not banned, and

(f)   the therapeutic index of cannabis, which indicates the estimated safety margin, is 40,000 compared with an index value of only 10 for alcohol.


The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows: .

I am aware pf the report entitled, 'On the Dangers of Cannabis*.

(a)   Dr Chesher'sstatement was:

Cannabis is not considered a drug of - addiction'.

(b)   Dr Chesher'sstatement was: lt is generally conceded that there is no truth in the contention that cannabis use leads to the use of narcotic drugs'. He added that:

The only way to test this hypothesis is to compare directly over a period of time the total population of cannabis users (or a representative sample of them) and determine the proportion of this population who become narcotic users. A' study of this natnre has not been done. . . .'

(c)   In referring to the fact that legal penalties may be incurred by young users of marihuana, Dr Chesher stated:

This surely must be counted among the adverse effects of cannabis. It might very well be its most serious adverse effect'. However, in another part of the report he stated: "... It is only when accurate information of the number of people using the drug (and the extent of their use) is available that one can assess the proportion of this total who are suffering an adverse reaction.'

(d)   Yes. He also made it clear that 'it is imperative that we should know more of the long-term effects on health of the continued, chronic administration of the drug.'

(e)   Yes.

(f)   Yes. It should be pointed out, however, that it is to a large degree unreal to refer to a 'therapeutic index' in relation to cannabis, as in the context of Western medicine the drug has no role in therapeutics.

The statements referred to are, of course, Dr Chesher's statements. I would suggest, therefore, that the honourable senator should refer to Dr Chesher any questions he may wish to raise regarding the significance or interpretation of the statements, within the context of the report as a whole.

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