Provides an overview of what is known about medicinal cannabis use in Australia, the current state of the scientific and medical evidence for its use, and problems with the current situation in Australia.
The use of any medication should be based on the clinical evidence of safety and efficacy. To know whether cannabis should be used medicinally, we need to know whether cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for particular conditions, whether it is associated with significant adverse effects, and how it compares to other treatments for those specified conditions. There are a number of different pharmaceutical cannabis products as well as crude cannabis which can also be administered in a range of ways. However, at present, the evidence on the medicinal uses of most cannabis products is incomplete.
In addition to the question of therapeutic effectiveness, using cannabis for medicinal purposes raises legal, regulatory, and other practical issues. If the evidence does support medicinal use of cannabis, enabling patient access raises complex issues of supply and its organisation within the usual processes of the healthcare system, as well as issues of legally distinguishing medicinal from non-medicinal usage.
While these questions and issues continue to raise debate, in Australia there are currently people using illicit cannabis for medicinal purposes. Potentially this means possibly seriously ill patients are being exposed to the risks associated with engaging with an illicit market, including arrest and prosecution, and the resultant stress and worry. Some argue that patients are being blocked from accessing a product which could be beneficial, by the legal status which is actually aimed at prohibiting non-medicinal, rather than medicinal use. They believe this is itself problematic.
Yet, despite continued media and government attention over the last few decades, the current state of the evidence, combined with the legal and regulatory difficulties, continue to prohibit any progress in addressing this issue.
The paper provides an overview of what is known about medicinal cannabis use in Australia, the current state of the scientific and medical evidence for its use, and problems with the current situation in Australia. We then explore some current responses. Given the complexities of this issue we are not yet seeking to provide specific guidance on how to resolve the problems, but rather to identify areas that require further action or investigation.
To achieve this, there is a need to disentangle medical and scientific questions from legal and ideological ones in considering whether and how medicinal cannabis should be used in Australia. This is difficult to achieve, since the range of acts and regulations that control non- medicinal uses of cannabis will necessarily impact on medicinal use. In this background paper we seek to begin disentangling these issues. Whilst the background paper includes a discussion of laws aimed at the control of non-medicinal cannabis use, the ANCD takes no view on issues of legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis for non-medicinal purposes.