Fiona Thomas reports on two sessions at the NZMA’s Rotorua GP CME last month focusing on latest medicinal cannabis developments.
Restricted access to medicinal cannabis effectively means “sending patients to drug dealers”, is not fair and needs to stop, according to presenters from both sides of the Tasman at last month’s GP CME conference in Rotorua.
Australian GP Ben Jansen and Auckland GP Graham Gulbransen each gave sessions about medicinal cannabis developments and the doctor’s role. Advocates for medicinal cannabis also hosted a stand in the main exhibition hall.
Dr Jansen is founder of Burleigh Heads Cannabis, a company seeking federal approval to sell medicinal cannabis products in Australia.
Both doctors said the lack of human trials into the effects of cannabis is because the substance is illegal; patients seeking it are labelled criminals.
How it works
Dr Jansen outlined the body’s endocannabinoid system, consisting of receptors that react to the various cannabinoids, or compounds, making up cannabis.
Those cannabinoids include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), known to give the effect of being “high”, and cannabidiol, currently thought to have the most significant health benefit without psychoactive effect.
His key take-home messages were:
Sixty per cent of cancer patients using cannabis illegally
Sixty per cent of doctors’ cancer patients will be using cannabis, and will be doing so illegally, which is not fair to them, Dr Jansen says.
Dr Gulbransen discussed case studies where he has prescribed the drug, for example, in patients with multiple sclerosis, in terminal cancer as part of palliative care, and in a patient with severe endometriosis and chronic pain, who was already using cannabis most evenings for analgesia.
He spoke of trying to get patients access to New Zealand’s only Medsafe-approved cannabis product, Sativex.
Arduous process to access products
Patients with multiple sclerosis with severe spasticity can be given a prescription for Sativex with the support of a neurologist but, beyond that, Dr Gulbransen says it’s an arduous process to obtain products.
Applications to get Sativex for unapproved uses go to some “nebulous committee at the Ministry [of Health]”. Dr Gulbransen has no idea whether their decisions can be questioned, describing it as an odd way to practise medicine.
Last month, associate health minister Peter Dunne announced cannabidiol products would be able to be prescribed by doctors without ministry approval. The change is expected to come into effect by the end of the year.