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Put medicinal cannabis to the test: AMA

30 Sep 2014

The AMA has called for a co-ordinated national approach to the medicinal use of cannabis as New South Wales begins preparations for clinical trials.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said that although more clinical trials of the drug were welcome, the move toward legalising its medicinal use should be conducted as a national strategy rather than being undertaken on an ad hoc State-by-State basis.

“I think we need a much more consistent approach across the country and some coordination … about regulating marijuana or cannabis as a medicine rather than as a drug,” A/Professor Olwer told ABC News Radio.

His comments came as New South Wales Premier Mike Baird announced the formation of a working group to investigate how to establish a clinical trial for the use of cannabis to help the terminally ill, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott threw his support behind medicinal cannabis.

“I have no problem with the medical use of cannabis, just as I have no problem with the medical use of opiates,” the Prime Minister wrote in a letter to radio announcer Alan Jones. “If a drug is needed for a valid medicinal purpose…and is being administered safely, there should be no question of its legality.”

Considerable momentum has built up around legalising the use of cannabis to treat medical conditions, with claims the drug has been an effective treatment for a wide range of illnesses and conditions.

But A/Professor Owler said there needed to be a careful, considered and evidence-based approach to its use.

“There are some areas where we know that cannabinoids as a pharmaceutical preparation have already been approved, but there are other areas, such as epilepsy, where there are large clinical trials underway in the United States, and so we probably need to wait for some of those trials to come through,” he said. “While I think proponents of the move to decriminalise marijuana point to various trials, I think the validity of some of those trials varies.”

He said the efficacy of medicinal cannabis for treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis had already been well established, but other applications should be subject to the same rigorous assessment process as applied to other medicines.

“The way that we regulate medicines in this country for clinical indications is through the TGA, and I think we need to keep using those mechanisms…to regulate the availability of cannabis - not crude cannabis that can be grown at home, but the pharmaceutical preparations that are actually already available, and even looking at putting those on the PBS for particular indications,” the AMA President said.

He said the introduction and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes was akin to the regulation and use of morphine.

A/Professor Owler said that, while morphine was used in medical application every day, it remained a controlled substance.

“We wouldn't dream of being without it. But we, of course, don't let it out on the street,” he said. “We don't have people using it in an unregulated fashion, and I think we have to take some of the emotion out of this debate and look at marijuana or cannabis in exactly the same way.”

Adrian Rollins


Published: 30 Sep 2014