Cannabis rules relaxed

By David Kavanagh | posted on November 14, 2019

ACCESS to medicinal cannabis became easier for patients in Western Australia on Tuesday when the State Government announced prescriptions would no longer require specialist approval.

But some medical professionals have claimed obstacles remain for patients and general practitioners across the state and have urged people in need to temper their expectations.

Albany Health Campus Senior Medical Practitioner Dr Brendan Carson told the Weekender that while the changes were a positive development, patients should not “expect miracles”.

“This is a smart and humane thing Mark McGowan has done … The process before was slow and ridiculously complicated,” he said.

“But some people will still face difficulties and I think some people are going to be disappointed either with getting a prescription, maybe with the side effects or with what the medication does.”

Dr Carson said doctors were generally required to have “proof of some kind” that medication would help with treatment before making a prescription.

He noted GPs were held responsible “to a significant degree” for foreseeable side effects and said some might be hesitant to prescribe the drug.

“That proof isn’t there for a lot of conditions when it comes to medical marijuana … There are people who use marijuana every day who still have chronic pain, seizures, nausea and vomiting. It’s not some magic cure,” he said.

“With some of the new cannabis products, we’re also not entirely sure what those side effects will be.”

Medical cannabis is sometimes used by those suffering from conditions like multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and epilepsy or by people going through chemotherapy or end of life care.

While the change will make access easier for the majority of patients, doctors will still be required to seek specialist approval when prescribing for children under 16 and anyone who is drug dependent.

Health Minister Roger Cook said the change brought WA closer in line with other states including New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

“Medicinal cannabis is often prescribed as a drug of last resort for people who are suffering and in terrible pain,” he said.

“This announcement underpins the McGowan Government commitment to putting patients first [and follows] detailed analysis of three years’ worth of data by the WA Department of Health.”

That data, collated since the Federal Government first introduced legislative changes allowing the manufacture of medical cannabis products, showed there were 876 approvals to prescribe the drug in WA between November 2016 and August this year.

Medicinal cannabis products are currently not approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration or funded by the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme.

They remain classified as controlled drugs throughout the country.