GPs hold back on cannabis

THE Tasmanian medicinal cannabis industry is a sleeping giant in Tasmanian agriculture.

However, the slow uptake by GPs of new patient medicinal cannabis access schemes is frustrating stakeholders in the sector, despite the high quality of produce being developed.

On July 1 this year the Special Access Scheme was passed in Tasmania to allow medicinal cannabis to be prescribed by GPs, pending a 48-hour approval process from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

However, in the first month of the scheme, the TGA approved only six applications.

Previously, the Controlled Access Scheme only allowed patients legal access to cannabis under special circumstances, typically through medical specialists.

That scheme, which ran from July 2017 to July 2021 only yielded 19 approved applications.

Craig Knight, of Tasmanian Botanics, a southern Tasmanian-based cannabis growing facility, said by cultivating cannabis in the state, the agricultural industry had an opportunity to grab a significant hold of a growing industry where we could ensure supply and consistency – one of the major components of the product.

“Patients like exactly the same product and doctors like to prescribe exactly the same medicine, and we have the capability to provide that.” Mr Knight said.

The continued growth of the cannabis industry in Tasmania would likely see farmers contracted for growing purposes, similar to other crops in the state, Mr Knight told Tasmanian Country.

Greens MP Rosalie Woodruff, who has previously questioned the accessibility of the Special Access Scheme, said Tasmanians should be able to access medicinal cannabis when they needed it, at a price they could afford, and from the high-quality product produced in their own state.

“Tasmania has patients in desperate need of this evidence-based medicine, as well as a world-leading industry that is producing medicinal cannabis,” Dr Woodruff said. “In a perverse situation, it’s often easier for patients to purchase products from the mainland.
“We need to end the stigma once and for all about medicinal cannabis and help grow the industry on this island.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Tasmanian branch spokesperson Dr Tim Jackson said it was by no means easy for a GP to prescribe medicinal cannabis. “It would be fantastic if it were the panacea to everything, but people have to understand that GPs will be going for all the tried-and-true medications first, then perhaps looking at the application of medical cannabis,” he said.
“Clinical evidence informing us which conditions we should be using medicinal cannabis is still little bit lacking. Compared to other treatments, a lot of it is more anecdotal.
“We know there are conditions where there is evidence it might be useful, such as multiple sclerosis, in palliative care and with chronic pain, but the quality of evidence varies and there are no conclusive studies which can tell us how much we can use, what the side effects are.”

While Dr Jackson said the process of TGA approval was an obstacle, he noted that currently GPs focus was the pandemic.
“Their main drive is to get everyone vaccinated and the introduction of medicinal cannabis has not come at an ideal time,” he said.

Health Minister Jeremy Rockliff said diagnosis and prescriptions were a matter for healthcare professionals.
“The Government does not involve itself in clinical or medical decisions,” he said.

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