From Legislators to Growers and Users, How Everyone is Faring with Medical Legalisation
85% of Australians are in favor of cannabis legalisation. Many people know of or are themselves patients with various symptoms who do better with medical cannabis than with traditional medication. Many of these patients have had a range of treatments attempted, from pain pills to highly addictive over-the-counter medication. These patients received a new lease of life when the Federal Government finally lowered restrictions on medical cannabis in March 2018.
So far, the number of patients receiving effective medical cannabis treatment has steadily grown, with the number of medical cannabis scripts approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) currently amounting to over 3100. These scripts have been written for patients with a wide range of ailments, such as anorexia, nerve pain and chemotherapy side effects like nausea and vomiting. According to government officials, no script has been rejected so far. Medical cannabis products are used in combination with other traditional medicine to create highly effective treatments.
The New Pharmaceutical Distribution Model Explained
The GP can send prescription scripts to the TGA for approval, although they can also apply to become an authorised prescriber. So far, the number of authorized prescribers is 54 and counting. With an approved script on hand, the patient can approach a pharmacy to help order the drugs directly from a cannabis supplier. The order then gets delivered to the patient through the pharmacy, and might come in various forms including oils, lotions, lozenges, patches, capsules and sprays.
So far, patients who have managed to get an approved script have had no remorse about their choices. Some say it helps condition the brain to deal with the pain more comfortably, others claim it reduces the pain literally. Some have also claimed various other kinds of benefits. However, none of them have exhibited the drug-seeking behaviors associated with drug addicts. In fact, most of these patients have had to deal with the stigma of the products, as they might be negatively perceived as users of illicit drugs.
The Root Cause of the Restraints in the Current Distribution System
The presence of THC — a controlled substance found in some medical cannabis products
Much of the debate on medical cannabis has been about the less-desirable effects of THC and the fact that medical cannabis products contain trace amounts THC. However, mounting evidence supports the conclusion that cannabis products engineered to only contain trace amounts of THC are highly effective in treating several ailments. That’s because cannabis products contain many other cannabinoids whose medicinal benefits cancel out the unwanted effects of THC in a product.
Low Ability to Prescribe Cannabis among Aussie GPs
Many GPs who help patients get approved prescription scripts often do so by the request of the patient, not because administration is simple. Unlike in Canada where most GPs can write a script for medicinal cannabis products, many GPs in Australia who support cannabis products for their patients must consult a specialist in order to get TGA approval for a script. It can be challenging to locate specialists whose insurance covers the prescription of cannabis products for patients.
Experts are Advising that Patients Try Other Drugs First
Experts agree that the results of studies on the medical benefits of marijuana have been mixed. ProfessorJennifer Martin, director of the Australian Centre for Cannabinoid Clinical and Research Excellence Professor noted that “The evidence of non-cancer pain relief is actually not that strong. There was a big review in the US a few years ago which suggested there would be some benefit for some patients,” She also argued that “when the Australian team updated the information, they found we would have to treat 24 patients with this particular cannabinoid for one of them to get a reduction in their pain symptoms. “Certainly some people that have taken cannabinoids do say they have had a lot of benefit, but we have also seen older patients who have had side effects.”
Her advise is for patients to first try out other drugs that have been registered by the TGA before turning to cannabis products.
While cannabis products might not be for everyone, the people who do benefit from them report beneficial results and low side effects. Regardless of how common medical cannabis products become, at the very least the relaxation of laws prohibiting the drugs will counteract the effects of the previous “blanket ban” and allow patients and doctors another treatment option that can often have fewer side effects than pharmaceutical medicine. For those that stand to benefit from medicinal cannabis products, the ability to obtain a prescription will be a very welcome development.