Australian GPs Getting Behind Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis and Australian doctors
Image: DarkoStojanovic

More than half of Australian general practitioners participating in a recent survey supported availability of medical cannabis on prescription.

In what’s thought to be the largest survey of its type carried out in Australia, researchers from the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the University of Sydney sought to gauge the knowledge and attitudes of Australian general practitioners  towards medicinal cannabis.

It found 56.5% supported prescription availability – and preferably without having to consult specialists; assuming GPs received the proper training. Support for medicinal cannabis has grown significantly since 2012, when just under 30% of Australian GPs said it should be available.

It seems many Aussie GP’s also view medicinal cannabis as having a good safety profile, with approximately three-quarters rating it as less harmful than opioids and benzodiazepines. Just over half rated it less harmful than antidepressants and statins. However, the potential for abuse, misuse and dependence was a recurring theme in the study’s open-ended comments section. Among the GP’s who didn’t want to prescribe cannabis, half cited the risk of abuse and dependence as their primary concern.

GPs were generally more open to the use of medicinal cannabis in conditions where there is stronger evidence it can be of benefit; such as spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis, or in instances where there are few effective alternatives – including palliative care and intractable epilepsy.

Australian doctors are seeing increasing interest in medical cannabis, with  61.5% reporting one or more patient enquiries in the three months preceding the survey. However, most felt their knowledge of medical cannabis was inadequate and just  28.8% were comfortable with the prospect of discussing it with their patients.

“Our results highlight the need for improved training of GPs around medicinal cannabis, and the discrepancy between GP-preferred models of access and the current specialist-led models,” stated the researchers.

Less than 10% of GPs surveyed reported an understanding of current regulations in Australia concerning medicinal cannabis or how patients can access it. And who could blame them.

While Australia has national legislation in place for medical cannabis, access is complex and there is inconsistency in the country’s  various states and territories. This causes delays, creates confusion and adds costs.

In March this year, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP)  called for consistency in rules.

The study results were published in the journal BMP Open and can be viewed here.