Article by Dr. Danial Schecter, Lift News
For those who follow the global status of medical cannabis, it appears that just about every month a different country introduces legislation to legalize cannabis for medical purposes or is investigating the possibility. While this sounds like a step in the right direction for patients who may benefit from this often extremely beneficial medicine, what does this roll-out look like for both patients and physicians on the ground?
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Australia to talk with physicians and researchers about clinical aspects of medical cannabis and learned about some of the ongoing barriers to having this treatment available to patients in need.
Australia legalized cannabis for medical purposes at the federal level on November 1st, 2016. Australia’s medical cannabis program has some similarities with Canada’s ACMPR, but some significant differences as well.
While Canada’s original medical cannabis scheme came about due to the government losing a court case launched by patients requesting reasonable access, Australia’s long road to legalisation also came about by action on behalf of patients and their families, although the court did not get involved.
The medical cannabis movement in Australia was gaining traction by 2013, in large part due to Lucy Haslam and her son Dan Haslam who was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer at age 20. Dan was treated with chemotherapy causing uncontrolled nausea and vomiting. He was unable to control his symptoms with traditional medication, and it was suggested to him that he try cannabis to alleviate his symptoms. He found great relief with this approach and his quality of life significantly improved until he passed away in 2015. Dan and Lucy Haslam campaigned for changes in legislation, eventually getting politicians from various levels of government on board. In 2014, a coalition of parliamentarians from different parties introduced a bill to regulate medical cannabis, with the government finally passing the 2016 Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill, setting the stage for patient access.
While patients have had a path to legal access to medical cannabis since Nov 2016, access by patients has been a lot more challenging. For physicians to be able to prescribe cannabis to patients they must go through a two-step process.