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WA woman’s sacrifice for medicinal cannabis

By day, Amanda Merendino works in a pharmacy.

By night, she takes on a second job in a pub to pay for the medical cannabis that has turned her life around.

The 29-year-old, who has had epilepsy since she was 12, pays almost $600 for a month’s supply of Tilray medical cannabis — a cost she is struggling to afford.

Ms Merendino said the medicine had transformed her from a skeletal “zombie” on strong medication to control eight or nine seizures a day. Her weight had plummeted to 42kg, with many people assuming she had an eating disorder.

Figures show that by last month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration had approved 2339 special access scheme applications for unapproved medical cannabis products, including 568 approvals last month alone.

VideoThe mother of a boy who had his medicinal cannabis confiscated says the experience was horrific and cruel.

There are 52 doctors across the country who have authority to prescribe medical cannabis but no products are subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Ms Merendino said that her seizures came on with no warning other than her arm flicking up.

“Before I knew it I’d be on the floor and then two hours later I’d wake up and my mum would have me on the bed and I’d be so tired,” she said. “I had medication to control the fits but the side effects were so bad that I had no energy and would have to have a sleep as soon as I got home from work.”

While she still took medication to control “blank-outs” — where someone loses awareness for a short time — medical cannabis replaced the drugs that had controlled her fits.

“I’m so much healthier now, you can see it in my face and body,” Ms Merendino said. “But I’m paying $450 for a 25-day supply of medical cannabis.

“The only way I’ve been able to afford it is because I live at home and sometimes work at night as well — and even then I struggle.”

Tilray, one of the biggest global producers of medical cannabis, is lobbying governments to contribute to the cost in the same way they do for other drugs.

Vice-president of global patient research and access Philippe Lucas said the company believed there should be reasonable patient access to medical cannabis.

“Unfortunately, research has shown that cost is a very real obstacle to access in many jurisdictions, so we work with government regulators and insurers to increase cost-coverage for patients wherever we can,” he said.

“We believe that Tilray medical cannabis has met the standard of safety and efficacy to be recognised as a medicine and therefore should not be taxed any differently than other prescription drugs.”

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