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Medical cannabis trials are once again a hot topic in Australia, with some states coming on board with the experiments, but a coordinated, national approach is still not on the agenda. New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have announced that trials will be conducted with South Australian Opposition Leader Steven Marshall pressuring his government to follow suit. However, despite calls from Australia’s peak medical body, the Australian Medical Association, for a national strategy to be conducted instead of on an inconsistent state-by-state basis, and other experts saying that the medical cannabis trials are unnecessary, no one seems to be listening. The same can be said for clinical trials on the medicinal use of cannabis that have already been conducted in other countries like the United States.
It is the components, known as cannabinoids, in cannabis that is seen to have many health benefits. The Australian Medical Association clearly states on its website that “Therapeutic cannabinoids that are deemed safe and effective should be made available to patients for whom existing medications are not as effective”. According to the American Cancer Society, studies of the use of cannabis for medical treatment have found that this drug can help alleviate nausea and vomiting from cancer treatments and that cannabinoids can be safe in treating cancer. It is also believed that cannabis is an effective pain relief drug. The society’s website states:
“The American Cancer Society supports the need for more scientific research on cannabinoids for cancer patients, and recognizes the need for better and more effective therapies that can overcome the often debilitating side effects of cancer and its treatment.”
Surely, the views of experts, and the outcomes of already conducted medical cannabis trials in other countries should take precedence over any political motivations. Australia is going down the track of the already criticized United States’ method where it is illegal to prescribe cannabis under national law even though the use of this substance to treat some medical conditions is legal under many of the state’s laws. The impacts of cannabis use does not change from state to state.
Some experts have already argued that these upcoming medical cannabis trials in Australia are a waste of time and money. There are already 23 states in the United States, Holland, Canada, Israel and the Czech Republic which permit the use of medicinal cannabis. As a result, the answers needed from the impacts and effects of cannabis use for medical purposes should be noted without the need for conducting further trials. With much research already conducted on this drug for medical use, and many health professionals supporting its use, some experts have said:
We should have moved on from the medical cannabis trial phrase, and instead leave it up to doctors to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of cannabis use with their patients on a case by case basis.
Professor David Penington from the University of Melbourne has long been an advocate for medicinal cannabis use and has been quoted in The Canberra Times as saying:
Cannabis has variable effects in individuals. It will not be possible to determine universally safe dosage of cannabis for individuals based on a clinical trial.
Professor Penington also said if the law allows selling to people who suffer from a doctor diagnosed condition and scheduled in legislation, this should eliminate the problem with provision of cannabis offered this way without the need to wait for completion of a clinical trial. As such, even though there are arguments against holding medical cannabis trials in Australia, at the very least, if they are conducted, they should be part of a national strategy to ensure a consistent approach.
By Rebecca Brown
American Cancer Society