It took Peter Robbins nearly two years to overcome pain and walk again following a traffic accident – and he attributes his eventual recovery to the use of cannabis extracts.

Mr Robbins moved to Malta in 2009, he embarked on building a new career as a personal trainer.

All was going well until 2011, when he was involved in a collision with a bus on his motorcycle.

The accident caused permanent damage to his right leg, cutting short his career aspirations.

“My life was completely taken away from me overnight,” he said. “Apart from causing nausea, pain changes you into a person you don’t even know. I suffered from post-traumatic stress, depression and eventually social anxiety.”

Mr Robbins was immediately put on painkillers, which he said he became “hooked on”.

It was not until he travelled to the Netherlands, where a doctor prescribed medicinal cannabis to treat his pain, that he managed to cut down, and eventually eliminate, opium-based pain medication.

With the pain finally under control, at 36 he re-learned to walk, but he soon realised that he had gone to the doctor to treat one symptom but managed to address several others, including anxiety and depression.

Mr Robbins was speaking to this newspaper together with Andrew Agius, a family doctor specialising in pain management, who believes that if used in small, controlled dosages, cannabinoid treatment has fewer side effects and is less toxic than the more common opium-based painkillers.

The two have joined forces to raise awareness about the benefits of cannabinoid treatment, in the hope that a wider variety of controlled, safe and more affordable medical preparations become available locally.

Pain changes you into a person you don’t even know

Dr Agius explained that the human body has what is known as neuro transmitters and receptors, and when there is a lack of either, the patient gets specific symptoms. For example, lack of endorphin will result in higher sensitivity to pain, while lack of serotonin could cause someone to suffer from depression. Recent research is showing that the lack of what is known as endogenous cannabinoid, or endocannabinoid, could also give rise to symptoms like anxiety, hypersensitivity to pain, tiredness and loss of motivation.

Cannabinoid treatment is available in several forms, and there are different medical formulas for different conditions such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, advanced metastatic cancer and anxiety-related conditions.

“Chronic pain could lead to other issues, such as insomnia, lack of concentration at work, and also anxiety.

“It has been found that medical cannabinoid treatment is much more effective that the regular pharmaceutical treatment that is usually prescribed for fibromyalgia patients,” Dr Agius said.

He knows of fibromyalgia patients already on a high dose of tablets who were still in pain despite treatment but felt “reborn” when they consumed cannabis extracts in the Netherlands.

He also believes that cannabinoid treatment is much safer than opium-based painkillers as patients are much less likely to develop an addiction.

Synthetic cannabinoids still outlawed

In 2014, former Health Minister and current Labour whip Godfrey Farrugia had called for the legalisation of short-term personal use of non-smoked cannabis for purely medical purposes.

Making the appeal in Parliament, he had argued that lawmakers were bound to listen to the patients’ needs and keep abreast of alternative therapeutic options.

The Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act, which came into force in April of last year, now allows a registered specialist to prescribe medicinal preparations of the plant cannabis licensed under the Medicines Act, if they believe there is no viable alternative.

However, Dr Farrugia noted that while according to the Act, medicinal preparations of the plant cannabis can be prescribed, it does not allow the prescription of the synthetic (laboratory-prepared) cannabinoid treatment. Discussions are under way to amend this.

Speaking to this newspaper last week, Dr Farrugia said he was not in favour of the casual use of cannabis but rather, strict, monitored and prescribed medical use of synthetic cannaboids, whether licensed or unlicensed, or the medical derivatives of the plant cannabis.

“When it comes treatment of chronic pain, the benefit of prescribing cannabis along with morphine will be one whereby the dosage of morphine will be much lower. This reduces the serious side effect of morphine.”

He noted that he had just prescribed hemp oil capsules to a 19-year-old patient under palliative care, whom he provided with the relevant medical documentation. The patient acquired permission from the authorities, including the police, to import the treatment from a licensed international outlet, since it was prescribed for strictly personal medical use.

When contacted, a spokeswoman for the Health Ministry confirmed that it was involved in the discussion on the proposal to amend the Act.

“Patient safety remains of overriding importance and prescribed cannabinoids – whether natural extracts or synthetic – need to be prescribed under consultant physician supervision and monitored by the Superintendent of Public Health.”

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