Dr Towpik Writes: The Reality of Getting Access to Medical Cannabis in Australia

9th August 2017: MC is supposed to be legal - but obtaining it is a different thing

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The latest post from Dr Teresa Towpik’s Medihuanna website

We read in the Australian papers, ‘it is now legal to prescribe medicinal cannabis in Australia’. Wow, is it really?  It all looks good on paper but reality is completely different.

The TGA application process is difficult and complicated. You can either become an authorised prescriber or go to Category A or B Special Access Schemes. All options are just as difficult, frustrating and confusing. The amount of paperwork you need to do is quite overwhelming; you need to provide evidence, scientific studies, explain why you need to use cannabis, then, as a GP I am not considered a specialist, so I need a letter of endorsement from one.

Unfortunately, the majority of these are against it and even one of my patients told me his neurologist considers prescribing cannabis immoral. So, it becomes catch 22; you can’t get a specialist so you can’t really obtain medication.

I am going to share a story. Marcin is over 30 years old and was involved in a motorbike accident about a year ago. He sustained an injury to his lower back and has suffered from severe pain since then. He also suffers from PTSD as a result of this accident. He has been on multiple medications, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, opiates, benzos.

None of these medications are helping and give him terrible side effects; his gut is ruined and he feels like a zombie. About two months ago the patient obtained THC/CBD oil illegally. He paid over $300 for two weeks supply. These two weeks were great, no pain, good mood, no flashbacks, he slept well.

Unfortunately, he is afraid to use the black market and he can’t afford this kind of money because he is on a student visa. His psychiatrist is supportive of cannabis but won’t apply or become an authorised prescriber because he is afraid he will be ridiculed by his colleagues.

This patient approached me. I would love to help but I know the TGA will reject me because I need a specialist’s letter and the amount of paperwork is unreal. How can I find time to do that while being busy GP? No wonder the majority of doctors won’t get involved. We have enough of red tape as it is. I am hoping that it will change eventually.

I believe doctors should have unrestricted access to low THC up to 5% and high CBD over 10% cannabis products as a first line treatment especially for conditions common in general practice – e.g. chronic pain of any nature, depression, anxiety, drug addictions, palliative care and then apply for products with higher concentrations under an authorisation scheme if this fails. It is very unfair that patients are forced to feel like criminals while trying to obtain medicine that truly helps them.

It’s time for a change and to let go of our heartless bureaucratic ways and put patients first with compassion and understanding.

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