Doctors still sceptical of medicinal cannabis, study finds
Medical professionals want more information about medicinal cannabis before they start prescribing it to patients, a new study has found.
Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology conducted a wide-ranging review of 26 published studies across Australia, the United States, Canada and Ireland.
Health professionals support medicinal cannabis as a treatment option but many don't know enough about it. Credit: Alamy
QUT pharmacy PhD candidate Kyle Gardiner led the analysis and said the main theme running through all the studies was that medical professionals broadly supported the idea of medicinal cannabis but lacked information about it.
“Health professionals support medicinal cannabis but that support is sometimes offset by their concerns,” Mr Gardiner said.
“Although they might feel it has a place in therapy, they also don’t have a clear idea about where it fits.”
In particular, a major concern among many of the health professionals surveyed was the psychiatric effect of medicinal cannabis, which it was felt had not been researched thoroughly enough.
In nearly every jurisdiction where medicinal cannabis is legal, at least one medical professional is required to sign off for a person to access it.
“There’s a big difference between being supportive of medicinal cannabis and actually delivering medicinal cannabis on the ground,” Mr Gardiner said.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about medicinal cannabis ... when it comes to the pharmacology, what does it do on a molecular level and how does it affect things like chronic pain or symptoms of MS [multiple sclerosis]?”
Mr Gardiner stressed the study - supervised by Professor Lisa Nissen, Head of QUT’s Faculty of Health School of Clinical Sciences - wasn’t about the benefits of medicinal cannabis itself, but how medical professionals reacted to the emerging treatment.
“It puts health professionals in quite a tricky position, because if you don’t have a good understanding of a drug, how best do you move forward from a clinical perspective?” he said.
The Queensland government last month passed laws making it easier for doctors and patients to access medicinal cannabis, after initially making it legal in 2015.
Under the new changes, medicinal cannabis is treated the same as other drugs of addiction or prescription drugs.
In welcoming the new laws, Health Minister Steven Miles said medicinal cannabis had “great potential” as a treatment and an industry.
“There are several companies working towards having medicinal cannabis products produced locally in Queensland,” he said.
“I look forward to following their progress in taking their products to market. This will help improve access for people and reduce costs for these increasingly important medicines.”
Importantly, despite the changes for medicinal cannabis it remained illegal for the Queensland public to grow cannabis for medical purposes.
The study found overall there was a growing acceptance of medicinal cannabis as a treatment option in newer studies compared to older ones.
It also found overall specialist practitioners were more likely to be supportive of medicinal cannabis as a treatment option than health professionals in general or community practice.
The findings have been published this week in the journal PLOS One.