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Cannabis policy: Palliative Care wants more awareness

In the wake of new legislation surrounding the use of medicinal cannabis, Palliative Care Australia has called for a public awareness campaign on its proper use, directed towards community members and medical professionals.

PCA chief executive Liz Callaghan said: “Whilst the researchers who are looking at the use of the drug at the moment are working towards a better understanding of how that drug can be used, other health professionals don’t have that understanding.”

To look after a person in a community setting or hospital who is accessing the drug, those other health professionals need to understand how it works and how it interacts with other drugs, Callaghan said. She added it’s also important to raise public awareness, as there is stigma attached to medicinal cannabis use.

A 2015 PCA survey of more than 1000 Australians indicated a high level of acceptance of the drug, with 67 per cent in favour, while almost a quarter of Australians remain ‘unsure’. The peak body said this indicates some stigma remains.

Callaghan said the new legislation, announced by health minister Sussan Ley last week was a good start for the introduction of medicinal cannabis to Australia.

Ley announced amendments to the Narcotics Drugs Act 1967 that would allow the controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes through a single national licensing scheme. PCA said the legislation sets Australia on the path to developing a medically sound product.

Callaghan said establishing an Australian supply would give researchers, and eventually doctors, a better understanding of what is in the medication.

Director of palliative care at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, associate professor Richard Chye, who is involved in the medicinal cannabis research trials, said the trials initially required importing a product from overseas.

“If there was an Australian product we could know much more about [tetrahydrocannabinol/cannabidiol] levels, what else is in it and ensure all the elements of the drug are known," Chye said. "This is a medical trial so we need a medical grade product.”

He said the next step was to develop an authority, whether the TGA or a separate body, to ensure standardisation of the product for medical use.

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