Deregistered doctor referred to police over cannabis experiment on ovarian cancer patients

Dr Andrew Katelaris last year with a collection of small cannabis plants to be grown for medicinal uses. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Dr Andrew Katelaris last year with a collection of small cannabis plants to be grown for medicinal uses. Photo: Rohan Thomson

A deregistered doctor who injected huge doses of cannabis oil into two women with ovarian cancer has been reported to the police after one patient died and the other suffered major complications.

But Andrew Katelaris, also known as "Dr Pot", has declared he will continue to administer cannabis to his patients despite a prohibition order imposed by the Health Care Complaints Commission, saying he answers to "a higher authority".

Dr Katelaris injected cannabis bought on the black market into the women's abdomens at his "wellness clinic" in Newcastle in September last year.

Within minutes of the women receiving the injections they started to experience severe stomach cramping followed by vomiting and confusion and Dr Katelaris took them to the Calvary Mater and John Hunter Hospital respectively, two days later.

The women remained stoned for days. One of them suffered medical complications that forced her to delay her scheduled chemotherapy cycle until it was too late, and she died in February.

But Dr Katelaris has defended the integrity of the experiment.

"We're not cavalier and I'm not stupid," he told the commission.

"There may be - there's always a grey area between bold and stupid, but I like to stay in one of those shades of grey, not in a black-and-white sort of area."

Dr Katelaris, who also has a PhD, worked as a surgeon on Sydney's north shore until 2005 when he was struck off the medical register for supplying cannabis to friends and relatives.

He has lately been practising at a "wellness clinic" in Newcastle run by the Church of Ubuntu, where he prescribes cannabis oil for children with epilepsy and adults with cancer, and advocates for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis.

His treatment of the two women, who were both aged 56, was an experiment in what would happen if he injected cannabis oil straight into the abdominal cavity and targeted the cancer cells directly, and had never been performed in humans.

One of the women, Ms K, had stage three ovarian cancer and had met Dr Katelaris through a naturopath, while the other, Ms M, met him at a medical cannabis symposium in Nimbin.

He told the HCCC he had obtained the cannabis samples on the black market but noting that some of the suppliers were "shady customers", he had planned to test it before using it in the experiment.

But some hold-ups with the Ministry of Health and Customs meant he could not test it until a week after he had administered it to the women, when he realised it was far more potent than he had anticipated.

Had he known, he would never have proceeded, he said.

"We didn't want to get the ladies out of their tree. We wanted to impact their ovarian cancer," he told the commission.

Dr Katelaris told Fairfax Media that Ms K had advanced ovarian cancer and would probably have died anyway, but the experiment had improved her markers.

The HCCC heard that Ms K had concerns about how he knew an intraperitoneal injection of cannabis would be safe if it had never been tried and wanted her oncologist to be informed about the experiment.

But Dr Katelaris persuaded her not to tell the oncologist and assured her: "Cannabinoids are intrinsically safe in any dose."

Ms K stayed in hospital for several weeks and suffered complications including weight loss and a lung infection and she was unable to have chemotherapy for two months.

Ms M stayed in hospital for several days but refused treatment and stands by Dr Katelaris. She told the HCCC he should be allowed to continue the trial.

The HCCC found this week that Dr Katelaris had failed to accept that the outcome of his experiment was "catastrophic" for the women.

"Dr Katelaris's clinical trial was completely lacking in scientific legitimacy and clinical rigour at every stage of its inception and execution and was unauthorised and unregulated," the HCCC found.

"He has blamed everyone but himself for what went wrong."

It prohibited him from injecting cannabis or its derivatives to any person or supplying or administering cannabis or its derivatives for any treatment.

However, Dr Katelaris told Fairfax Media he would continue to administer cannabis to his patients because it was so effective, but would not perform the experiment he had done on the two women because of the side-effects.

"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."

The commission also referred the matter to the police.

NSW Police confirmed that Dr Katelaris had been referred to them for investigation but declined to comment further.

Dr Katelaris was prosecuted in 2005 over the cultivation of 50,000 cannabis plants at his Dungog property, during which process he was also charged for the possession of cannabis when officers discovered him bringing the substance into the courtroom.

He was acquitted on the possession charges 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 12 sheep".

Fighting that charge, he said the judge in the drug 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.

This story Deregistered doctor referred to police over cannabis experiment on ovarian cancer patients first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.