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04 Aug 2015

AMA President Brian Owler has called for a considered, evidence-based approach to the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes as the clamour for its legalisation as a treatment for conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis grows.

Professor Owler told the National Press Club that marijuana’s use as a recreational drug should not be allowed to cloud the assessment of its potential medical applications.

But likewise, he warned against a wholesale embrace of cannabis as a treatment without proper scientific evaluation of its effectiveness for a wide variety on maladies.

“It's not about the fact that it's cannabis. It's actually about the fact of how effective it is,” he said. “There are some conditions where it clearly may be beneficial, and perhaps we don't need to have an in-depth trial on those sorts of indications. But there are clearly others where the evidence is actually not there.”

His comments came as Federal Labor intensified the pressure on the Federal Government over the issue after the ALP National Conference passed a motion calling for reform of existing regulations governing the use of cannabis.

Already, several states are taking significant steps toward the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. New South Wales has initiated a series of clinical trials, and Victoria and Queensland have reached an agreement to let their citizens who are suffering terminal or life-threatening conditions to take part.

But Labor’s Shadow Assistant Health Minister Stephen Jones said the participation of the Commonwealth was vital to allowing its medicinal use.

“The truth is, neither State nor Commonwealth governments can go it alone,” Mr Jones said. “We need Commonwealth leadership to deal with the complex overlay of State and Federal laws that deal with registration of medicines [and the] cultivation, supply and use of prohibited drugs.”

He said Labor believed in a national approach based on medical science.

“Cannabis should be treated like any other medicinal product,” Mr Jones said. “There is evidence to show that medicinal cannabis can reduce the pain and nausea associated with cancer treatment. It may also help with controlling epileptic fits [and] multiple sclerosis.

“But right now cannabis medicines can’t be prescribed by doctors. We need scientific verification and approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year said that he had “no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates”.

“If a drug is needed for a valid medicinal purpose…and is being administered safely, there should be no question of its legality. And if a drug that is proven to be safe abroad is needed here it should be available,” the Prime Minister said.

While there is growing clamour to legalise medicinal cannabis, Professor Owler said it was nonetheless important to take a cautious and well-informed approach.

“We need to have proper trials and regulate it as a medication just like any other medication,” he said. “It's not about trying to deny access to the drug, but we also want to make sure that we don't do any harm. We want to make sure that people are actually getting the drug for the right reasons, and that it's actually going to benefit them in the future.”

Adrian Rollins


Published: 04 Aug 2015