Can you get Cannabis on prescription? And is it effective?

Can you get Cannabis on prescription? And is it effective?

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Can you get Cannabis on prescription and is it effective?

Authored by Dr Richard Bennett on 01.10.2019
Medically Reviewed by Dr Aifric Boylan
Last updated on 15.10.2019

What is Cannabis?

  • Cannabis is made by drying the flowers of hemp plants
  • It is known by a variety of other names including:
    • Marijuana
    • Grass
    • Hasish (or hash)
    • Ganja
    • Pot
  • There are many active chemicals contained in cannabis
    • The main one is delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • It is a hallucinogen – this means that is can cause hallucinations
  • More commonly it makes people feel calm & relaxed
  • It can also cause anxiety, paranoia, confusion & depression

What are the different ways you can take cannabis?

  • You can smoke it, usually mixed with tobacco
    • This is known to be far more dangerous for your physical health than smoking tobacco alone
  • You can eat it
    • In a cake or a cookie
    • As a tincture or in an oil
  • You can “vape” it 
    • This technology is relatively new and the health-risks are less well-understood

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Is cannabis effective as a painkiller?

  • The evidence is limited
  • The Therapeutic Goods Administration (or TGA), the government body that regulates medicines, states that:
    • cannabis should not be the “core component” for treating pain
    • Further evidence is required to determine safety & effectiveness
  • They seem doubtful that cannabis is effective for fibromyalgia and arthritis
  • They are more positive about its role in helping with pain associated with MS (Multiple Sclerosis)

Can cannabis help with Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

  • According to the TGA:
    • Cannabis can probably help with:
      • Pain
      • Spasticity
      • Sleep
    • Cannabis probably doesn’t help with:
      • Disability and disease progression
      • Tremor and incoordination
    • Cannabis may possibly help with:
      • Quality of life
      • Bladder function
  • There have been no studies comparing cannabis to current standard MS treatments
    • This means that the current treatments may (or may not) be more effective than cannabis

Can cannabis control nausea and vomiting?

  • Yes, it can, but…
  • It has been shown to be less effective than current conventional medications
  • It should therefore only be considered when other treatments have all failed

Can cannabis control Epilepsy?

  • The evidence is poor
  • Cannabis is only recommended:
    • In patients under 25, and…
    • If other treatments have failed, and…
    • In combination with other more conventional medications
  • Seizures may also worsen

Can I get cannabis on prescription?

  • Yes, a doctor can apply for a license to become an “authorised prescriber” of cannabis- that license would be specifically for you, and only if it is appropriate for your condition and circumstances.
  • In March 2018 the Therapeutic Goods Authority (TGA) updated its guidance on prescription cannabis
  • They thoroughly assessed a variety of prescribable cannabis products, looking at the scientific evidence from 100s of studies
  • The TGA warns that:
    • There are concerns about the safety of “vaping”
    • There is a significant risk of interactions with other drugs, which are poorly understood at this time
    • The effects of long-term medicinal cannabis use are poorly understood
    • There is a high incidence of side-effects such as dizziness, nausea, diarrhoea, drowsiness, forgetfulness, mood disturbance and distractibility
    • Dosing is difficult as there are no established protocols for starting treatment

Article Resources

https://www.tga.gov.au/medicinal-cannabis-guidance-documents

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2019-10-15T14:30:18+00:00 By Richard|Cannabis, Pain|

About the Author:

Richard Bennett
Dr Richard Bennett is an experienced UK-qualified GP, based in Melbourne. He attended medical school at Imperial College in London, and subsequently worked at Charing Cross Hospital and Royal Surrey County Hospital, before completing his vocational training in General Practice. For many years he was a GP owner in Norwich, where he was also an Executive Board Member for the Local Health Authority. He is a full time doctor working in a busy Melbourne GP clinic, as well as a founder and director of Qoctor. He is a regular contributor on the topics of migraine and mental health.

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