The Cannabis Treatment Service in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta is so successful that it now has the interest of international medical experts. Dr Jon Currie has treated over 400 cannabis-dependant patients at the clinic during a 12-month trial. Withdrawal from cannabis, says Dr Currie, can be “really very difficult - they get angry, irritated, aggressive, so they often just don’t stop”.
One of Dr Currie’s patients, Julia Norcott, was dependent on marijuana for more than 20 years, “I’d get up every morning and have to have a few cones straight away to start the day,” she admits. A combination of medication and counselling have now cured her addiction. “I can say every day that I won’t use it again,” she says.
Western Sydney Area Health Drug & Alcohol Services developed the program in collaboration with the Salvation Army’s Youthlink, and the free service began in November 2003. All patients entering the program used cannabis daily and were considered to be clinically dependent. The success rate has been tremendous with 88% of patients either stopping or significantly reducing their cannabis intake.
On the back of such positive results the state government will establish a further three clinics in NSW - at Orange in the central west, Sutherland in Sydney’s south, and the Central Coast. Experts, however, hope that eventually every doctor and hospital around the country will have the same treatment available.
Case study from the clinic’s files
During the last 15 years Mr D had been unable to achieve any period of cessation, despite making made multiple attempts to stop smoking cannabis. He attributed this to the extreme restlessness and agitation that he had developed on each occasion.
Mr D was now extremely concerned about his inability to stop using cannabis, because his workplace had recently introduced a mandatory drug screening policy for all its employees.
At presentation to the Cannabis Treatment Program, Mr D was using upwards of 5 grams of cannabis each day, at a cost of approximately $500 per week. The treatment plan established for Mr D included immediate cessation of all cannabis, prescribed medications and regular clinical review sessions.
Mr D was able to achieve immediate cessation of cannabis, and reported that his mediation regimen successfully reduced the symptoms of agitation and anxiety that developed to a manageable level.
Within six weeks, Mr D had successfully ceased all medication and was able to provide his workplace with a cannabis-free urine drug screen.
At 10 weeks, Mr D remains cannabis free and is in contact with the treatment program periodically as required for clinical support.