In 2003 the New South Wales (NSW) Government was going to introduce legislation to allow a trial of medicinal cannabis. Australian researchers had been lobbying the government for two very different schemes. Most favoured transforming cannabis into a pharmaceutical, but one doctor was determined to treat cannabis as a medicinal herb and threatened that if the government locked in a trial with a big pharmaceutical company, he would run his own illegal trial. He was already developing high potency strains of cannabis that could have been tested on the thousands of medicinal cannabis users.
Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, in 2017, and that very same doctor “… is permanently prohibited from supplying or administering cannabis or any of its derivatives to any person for the treatment, or purported treatment, of cancer”. So, what happened?
Dr Andrew Katelaris was a resident medical officer at North Shore Private Hospital in Sydney, Australia in 2003. A fervent campaigner who wanted cannabis to become a low-cost, herbal medicine. He envisaged patients growing their own, but his main goal was to become a licensed cannabis supplier, developing potent strains of plants. In 2002 he convinced the NSW government to grant him the first licence to grow and test cannabis for differences in ‘drug’ content with cooperation of Southern Cross University (Lismore) under an exemption from the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act. The research revealed some startling results, with pesticide and herbicide contamination and enormous variation in strength. In 1995 Dr Katelaris had begun growing one of the nation’s first hemp research crops at Quirindi in northern NSW. At that time, he had been investigating the plant’s fibre for use in the fabrics and construction industries.
However, Dr Katelaris never had permission to test ‘street’ cannabis and in 2003 his growing licence was revoked after police declared his property a security risk (a large shed was not padlocked), a decision that wasn’t revoked despite many letters of support from European textiles companies impressed with the potential for the Australian-grown crop. Dr Katelaris was astounded, his was meant to be a first licence, a photo-chemical survey into the variability of what was available and he had wanted to rapidly follow up with producing quality cannabis and setting up trials, so desperately required. Katelaris was on the phone to the government thereafter, trying to re-establish the cannabis trial, but he was now regarded as a maverick in the science community.
In October 2003 the United States government took out patent #6,630,507 on cannabinoid compounds in cannabis due to their antioxidant and neuro-protective properties.
Dr Katelaris recalled being contacted by a 78-year-old patient after he’d appeared on ABC TV’s Catalyst program, in 2003, discussing the medical use of cannabis. “The patient was so desperate for help that she found my name in the White Pages and rang me at home”, he said. The woman was wheelchair bound and in chronic pain and a pain management clinic prescribed morphine, which caused severe constipation, unsteadiness and confusion. “She had already tried cannabis in cookies, which had provided benefit but … she wasn’t able to smoke the herb”, Dr Katelaris said. “I provided her with a sublingual tincture prepared from carefully selected cannabis plants. It led to substantial improvement and she was able to reduce her morphine dosage with its associated side effects”. For showing such compassion and understanding, he was charged with professional misconduct.
“Cannabis can be used to relieve an enormous amount of pain and suffering and is safer to use than Panadol”, Dr Andrew Katelaris, June 2015
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in August, 2006 that a Sydney doctor who grew 49,519 ‘cannabis’ plants would not serve a custodial sentence. Dr Katelaris was convicted of one count of cultivating not less than a large commercial quantity of cannabis after drug squad detectives raided his property where he was growing a half hectare crop of hemp. He grew the plants on his property near Dungog in the NSW Hunter Valley in 2005, having been involved in industrial hemp research and medical cannabis experimentation since 1989. The court was told the crop had a low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, making it of no value as a ‘drug’. During sentencing submissions the court was told Dr Katelaris’ licence as a medical practitioner in NSW had been revoked for three years with the NSW Medical Tribunal banning Dr Katelaris over the self-administration of cannabis and for supplying it to some patients.
The Judge told the court Dr Katelaris would not be imprisoned, however, he was to be charged for possession of cannabis when police officers discovered him trying to bring a plant into the courtroom! At the 2006 hearing the Judge said he had no idea what the appropriate penalty was for growing a crop that, while prohibited, had been found to be so low in THC that it was practically useless as a recreational ‘drug’. Dr Katelaris was acquitted on the possession charge but his indignation on being found guilty of cultivating a commercial quantity of hemp led to a further prosecution for contempt of court, after he likened the jury to a “group of twelve sheep”. Fighting that charge, he said the judge in the case was “morbidly obese” and “his ego was bruised by the fact he could not stay awake” during the trial, but this defence did not persuade the judge and he was convicted and placed on a three-year good behaviour bond.
In 2012, asked about the ethical issues raised by breaking the law, Dr Katelaris said, “It is not a matter of ethics, it is about the scientific evidence that overwhelmingly shows that cannabis has a beneficial effect on the symptoms of severe disease including spinal spasticity and MS, HIV and cancer. The illegality stems from racist and corrupt laws put in place in the US in the 1930’s. The law should serve humans, but instead the cannabis laws cause harm and serve to persecute a most disadvantaged group in society. Because of the illegality there is a $5-billion black market with profits mostly going to organised crime. What are the ethics of forcing sick people to go to criminals?”
Since 1989 he has been experimenting with the medicinal uses of cannabis. Initially to assist in the management of chronic pain and spasticity, and the results were very encouraging, in most cases, improving pain control whilst reducing the need for narcotics. In 2013 he obtained cannabidiol (CBD) dominant cannabis seeds from Spain and began experimenting with this to control the seizures of children afflicted with intractable epilepsy (the major cause of preventable brain damage). Intractable epilepsy is, by definition, any seizure disorder that cannot be controlled by current medication. Many thousands of Australian children and their families are currently affected and this condition costs the country hundreds of millions of dollars annually, with frequent ambulance call-outs, hospital admissions, often with prolonged periods in intensive care and a huge bill for pharmaceutical drugs and tests, most of which show little benefit.
Since 2013, Dr Katelaris has supplied medicinal cannabis to dozens of children with serious seizure disorders. With this safe and effective herbal medicine he has seen a dramatic reduction in the frequency and intensity of seizures suffered and in addition, most of the children have shown a noticeable improvement in social, intellectual and motor functioning. His current research interest is in developing better seizure medication.
He is specifically refining the use of cannabis plant varieties that are cannabidiol-dominant. Cannabidiol (CBD) is non-neuroactive cannabinoid.
Dr Katelaris concluded a trial pilot study with twelve children suffering from intractable forms of the disease taking part in the three-month study. All children had exhausted all other methods of conventional medical treatment. The children were administered an infusion of cannabis in refined coconut oil. By the time they had finished the trial, the condition of all of the children had improved, with at least 70% experiencing fewer epileptic episodes. Some showed noticeable advances in social interaction and gross motor skills during the trial and the results were very promising, Dr Katelaris said. “This is the first good news for parents with children afflicted with intractable epilepsy, who until now must suffer not only their affliction, but the severe toxic effects of the ineffective poly-pharmacy”.
Police made 66,684 cannabis arrests in Australia in 2013-14, the highest on record.
87.2% of those were consumers, rather than providers.
Australian Crime Commission Illicit drug data report 2013-14
In 2016 he was working at a ‘wellness clinic’ in Newcastle run by the Church of Ubuntu, where he supplied cannabis oil to children with epilepsy and adults with cancer, still advocating for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis. However, Dr Katelaris admitted he was “flying blind” when he prepared “huge doses” of cannabis mixed with coconut oil and injected it directly into the ovarian cancers of two 56-year-old women at the Newcastle clinic in September, 2015. Nearly 18 months later, with further sanctions from the state’s health watchdog and a referral to police, Dr Katelaris insists health authorities are “retarding progress”, and that his championing of cannabis oil as a “safe and effective herbal medication” for broad use is in the public interest.
One of only a handful of compassionate suppliers openly flouting the law by providing access to medicinal cannabis oil for families in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), NSW, Victoria and further afield, Dr Katelaris has become the most public face of doctors unwilling to wait for the law to catch up with the needs of their patients. While quick to stress he is not operating as a GP, he was conducting clinics on the NSW central coast and Skype consultations with patients in other states, advising them not just on cannabis but also diet and lifestyle. He has spent countless hours teaching patients how to use cannabis to treat conditions ranging from intractable epilepsy to chronic pain and relief from the debilitating side-effects of chemotherapy.
“This is a pharmaco-fascist state we live in” Dr Katelaris declared. “It’s child abuse what’s going on, I mean, what civilised country refuses to treat children with one of the safest medicines known to man?”
“They’re irrelevant to my existence” Dr Katelaris said about Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) sanctions against him after the NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, made a formal complaint about the cannabis “experiment” involving two women. He said he had not been contacted by police after the HCCC referred its report and findings to them about the two women, one taken to the Calvary Mater hospital, the other, to the John Hunter hospital, two days after injections. In a statement, Dr Katelaris criticised federal and state governments after a police raid on his Newcastle premises in December 2016 that led to the destruction of more than 200 cannabis plants.
“Will I bother to go and appeal the decision? Hardly. It’s easier to simply ignore it. I answer to a higher moral authority than the HCCC. My own conscience”, even though Dr Katelaris alleged the HCCC report contained “errors of fact”. NSW Police confirmed Dr Katelaris had been referred to them for investigation but declined to comment further. Dr Katelaris told the HCCC that he had warned both women on 2 September 2015, that cannabis oil injections directly into tumours had never been tried before, “… you’re in unchartered waters”.
Asked about the ethical issues raised by breaking the law, Dr Andrew Katelaris asked
in reply, “What are the ethics of forcing sick people to go to criminals?”
Dr Katelaris held the Department of Health responsible for the failure of his “experiment”, after alleging it prevented him from having the University of Sydney test the strength of the active ingredient in the cannabis oil he used. He placed blame “squarely at the feet of the ministry (of health)”, the HCCC found. “We’re not cavalier and I’m not stupid” he told the HCCC. Dr Katelaris was asked why he persisted in describing cannabis as a “safe and effective herbal medication” given what the commission termed a “catastrophic” outcome for both women. “He completely and somewhat angrily repudiated the use of the word ‘catastrophic’”, the HCCC report said. The HCCC found his insight was “so deficient, that he poses a serious risk to the health and safety of the public. The commission finds that he devised a hasty, ill-conceived and unsafe clinical trial of this experimental treatment, which would give him the ‘protection’ of a disclaimer if things went badly, but personal accolades and good publicity if things went well”, it found.
Type ‘Katelaris’ into the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency database for cancelled health professionals and it doesn’t come up, and it’s the same if you try it in the field for “practitioners who have given an undertaking not to practice”. AHPRA advises you to go to AustLII, the Australasian Legal Information Institute, where you can search for court or tribunal cases. However, you won’t find the 2005 Medical Board decision that led to Dr Katelaris’ deregistration if you check on AustLII, which makes the AHPRA referral of limited assistance. That’s if you’re even aware AHPRA exists at all, despite the millions of dollars spent establishing and running it since 2010.
Dr Katelaris referred to the Medical Board – now the Medical Council – as “a bunch of f…wits” and the Health Care Complaints Commission was a “pharmacofascist” institution. In October 2015 the HCCC ruled that “Andrew Katelaris is permanently prohibited from supplying or administering cannabis or any of its derivatives to any person for the treatment, or purported treatment, of cancer”. The HCCC report is available on their website. The commission concluded Dr Katelaris put his own interest in self-protection and self-promotion ahead of the health and safety of two vulnerable women suffering from ovarian cancer. In his defence, Dr Katelaris slammed the scientific credentials of the HCCC and said the women involved in his pilot study, had good outcomes and he would continue his research.
“What the HCCC didn’t mention is that one of them was alive and well and the other showed a substantial reduction in their cancer markers before they resumed conventional therapy and died”, he said.
Dr Katelaris has been referred to police, but he said he was not concerned. “I’ve been referred to police on many different occasions. We do understand that the police are starting to wake up to reality that they now have discretion not to act against people, but if I am approached and duly charged we will defend any matter strenuously on the basis of medical necessity”. Dr Katelaris said the successful use of cannabis oil among severely epileptic children spoke volumes. “Our results in childhood epilepsy have been stunning”, he said. “We haven’t produced a panacea but we have salvaged more than half of the children that are written off as intractable epileptics and that has actually forced the government to take the steps that they are in doing their own research”. He said governments needed to hurry up with medicinal cannabis trials.
Adapted from Deregistered, Defiant and a Risk to the Public, Cannabis Campaigners Case Fails on the Details, Deregistered doctor referred to police over cannabis experiment on ovarian cancer patients, Dr Andrew Katelaris, Cannabis doctor escapes prison, Nimbin MardiGrass 2012, Australian HEMP Party, MEDICINAL CANNABIS, People Power Changes Political Stance On Cannabis, Dr Pot and Doctor Defiant After Sanction Over Cannabis Oil Injections
Dr Andrew Katelaris’ interviews/videos;
A Current Affair:- http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/article/9081623/medical-marijuana