Public Health watchdog pulls plug on cannabis classes

The doctor giving the talks was warned by the Superintendent of Public Health that he could lose his licence if he failed to comply

Agius has been a very vocal advocate of the use of medicinal cannabis
Agius has been a very vocal advocate of the use of medicinal cannabis

A local doctor has been asked by the Superintendent of Public Health to stop a series of lectures he has been giving on the benefits of medicinal cannabis.

Andrew Agius is a local doctor specialising in pain management and has in recent months emerged as one of the main proponents of easier access to medicinal cannabis.

Speaking to MaltaToday in July, Agius pointed out that despite legal changes which opened the door to prescribing cannabis under certain conditions, in practice thousands were still suffering due to the extreme restrictions on medical cannabis.

“The aim of the lectures was to inform people on the potential medicinal benefit of the drugs, by sharing the latest available research,” he said when contacted this morning. Agius stressed that the intention was simply that of making it easier for patients and medical professionals alike to access to information about the plant.

Agius said that when contacted by the Superintendence of Public Health, he was informed that his lectures were being viewed as form of self-advertising, which is prohibited. Moreover, he was also informed that wording of the title of one of his talks implied that cannabis could cure cancer, a claim which is it said was unsubstantiated.  He said that despite changing the lecture’s title the authorities seemed unconvinced that the contents of the lecture would not imply the plant could cure cancer, adding that this would be in breach of rules on spreading misinformation.

“Dear all, I have been advised by the Superintendent of Public Health to stop Kannatalim as I have been accused of spreading misleading information and breaching the Code of Ethics,” wrote Agius on Kannatalim’s Facebook page.

“The lecture at 6.30pm tomorrow at Funky Monkey has been cancelled and also the lecture that was scheduled for Friday 20th October ‘The Use of Medical Cannabis in Cancer’.”

Rules governing the medical profession do in fact prohibit self-advertising and the spread of misinformation however it does not seem as though the SPH informed Agius what he would be required to change in order for his lectures to be compliant with the required standards.

News of the cancellation of Agius’ lectures came on the eve of the launch of a manifesto by cannabis legalisation lobby group Releaf. The group is advocating for the legalisation, regulation of cannabis, as well as improved education on its effects. Agius was set to give a lecture at the group’s manifesto launch party, however this has now been cancelled.

Asked whether he felt the SPH’s move was linked to his participation in today’s events, Agius said it was probably a coincidence since he had already received some blow-back from medical professionals over the talks.

Reacting to news of the lecture cancellation, Releaf “unequivocally condemned any attempt at threatening or censoring” Agius from helping patients “who so sorely need his expertise and guidance”.

“The truth is, the Superintendent is focused on keeping the status quo in place, and not focused on the best ways to treat and heal Maltese citizens,” read a post on the group’s Facebook page, accusing the SPH of preferring to “leave patients without medicine.

The group said despite the SPH’s “threats”, Agius would be addressing today’s manifesto launch press conference. It urged those who encountered “legal issues” or felt “threatened by the authorities due to their cannabis use” to contact Releaf privately.

MaltaToday is awaiting replies from the health ministry and SPH.

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