Medicinal cannabis is now legal in Australia, but patient access is still very difficult, and rightly so according to health leaders, because of a lack of evidence regarding its efficacy and safety.
The medicinal cannabis industry – which already consists of 12 companies listed on the ASX – is also still navigating the regulations around its cultivation.
For this reason, the Medical Cannabis Council has been launched to support Australian production and research by working as an interface between the industry and government. Adam Miller founder of BuddingTech – a medical cannabis technology start-up – said the council is essential because despite the government providing a pathway for the prescription of medical cannabis, the process is “somewhat complicated”.
“The aim of the council is to remove any confusion still surrounding the legal framework and accessibility of medical cannabis so the most at-need patients can understand their rights and the availability of the products,” Miller said.
It’s launch coincides with the three-day United in Compassion Medical Cannabis Symposium being held in Melbourne from Friday. Experts from Israel, Canada and the US will discuss the latest research on medical cannabis and how it can be used.
Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will also address the symposium. Already there is a body of evidence to support the use of medicinal cannabis for those suffering from chemotherapy-induced nausea, epilepsy, MS and Parkinson’s disease.
A recent trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine, led by Australian neurologist Professor Ingrid Scheffer, found cannabidiol – one of at least 113 compounds found in the cannabis plant – significantly reduced the severity and frequency of seizures in children with a rare, yet devastating form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome.
Carol Ireland, the CEO of Epilepsy Action Australia, said medical cannabis has given many families hope.
“The early indicator of our research is that medical cannabis treats areas of epilepsy that traditional medicine has hitherto been unable to have an effect,” Ireland said.
It is, however, a lack of robust clinical trials on the use of medical cannabis that has many doctors and physicians wary about rushing widespread access.
Last week, the Greens succeeded in scrapping rules which made it harder for dying patients to access medical cannabis, a move slammed by Health Minister Greg Hunt as “reckless”. The sentiment was supported by both the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the Australian Medical Association.
The position of the RACP is that more research is needed to ensure positive patient outcomes. AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said appropriate care and diligence that is used for all other therapeutic products must also apply to medicinal cannabis.
“We can’t put the cart in front of the horse,” Gannon said.