- to understand the science of medicinal cannabis,
- to consider if they might be eligible for medicinal cannabis, and
- to understand the process of being prescribed medicinal cannabis.
All of which we hope will assist consumers to begin a conversation with their medical professional.
Does it work?
We began by introducing medicinal cannabis, and how it is different to the ‘street cannabis’ that your neighbour might grow in their backyard. We touched on the scientific evidence. While it appeared to be of little interest to most attendees, the scientific evidence suggests that medicinal cannabis is beneficial in certain situations, including for pain and palliative care.
Who is eligible?
There are around 2,300 people in Australia currently prescribed medicinal cannabis, including around 100 in the ACT. Despite having a medicinal cannabis scheme in the ACT since 2016, only a small portion of people who might be eligible for the scheme know where to start.
Medicinal cannabis is regulated by both the Therapeutic Drugs Administration (TGA), and by ACT Health. The TGA determines what drugs and devices can be used in Australia and under what circumstances. Then each state and territory regulates prescribing within its borders. Within the ACT, Pharmaceutical Services manages the ACT Medicinal Cannabis Scheme and provide Patient Information for Medicinal Cannabis.
Four specific conditions are listed as eligible for medicinal cannabis in the legislation:
- Spasticity in multiple sclerosis
- Nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy
- Pain in palliative care in the last 12 months of life
- Refractory paediatric epilepsy
All other conditions are considered on a case-by-case basis, such as neuropathic pain, anorexia, PTSD and other conditions that cause chronic pain.
What is the process?
The road to prescription is not an easy one. It takes a lot of paperwork, a lot of time and, since medicinal cannabis is not listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the medicine will cost a lot of money.
Medical professionals registered with APHRA can make an application to the Special Access Scheme, which allows them to prescribe medicinal cannabis. At present specialists are more likely to prescribe it than GPs. However, GPs are legally allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis.
To make an application to the scheme, your GP will have to prove that you have tried all other options. Alternately, they can prove that you can’t use other options, for example, because of a severe allergy to the medication. Your GP will also have to consider personal risk factors. Information about risk factors can be found here. Information on the TGA application process to guide GPs through the process can be found here.
So, in answer to the most commonly asked question: “Where can I find a list of prescribing GPs?” Unfortunately, there isn’t one. This isn’t surprising, because Chronic Pain Australia’s recent survey found that 93.1% of general practitioners don’t know how to help patients legally access medicinal cannabis.
Given the overwhelming popularity of the sessions, we are planning to run more later in the year, although we don’t have specific dates yet. Similar sessions are also being delivered in other states and territories, and more information about those can be found on the Chronic Pain Australia website.
Keep an eye on future Consumer Bites for our future sessions!
Date published: 29/4/2019
Last updated: 29/4/2019