Photo: Kerrie-Ann Trembath Forster says cannabis alleviates some of her suffering. (ABC News)
Kerrie-Ann Trembath Forster has lived with agonising chronic pain for the best part of a decade, and despite medicinal cannabis being legal in Canberra, she sometimes has to turn to street drugs to relieve her suffering.
The grandmother has spent many days in bed wishing her pain would disappear and never return — a feeling she finds difficult to describe.
"I call it a 'throbbing' going through my body. It just goes and spreads out everywhere," she said.
"It feels like my body is killing me. Pain going down my legs. Sharp pains in my back."
Practicing meditation and yoga once a week has helped her to cope.
And while she hates smoking cannabis and loathes the sensation of being "stoned", Ms Trembath Forster said she sometimes had no choice but to use cannabis purchased on the street, because it was such an effective remedy.
Photo: Medicinal cannabis was legalised in Canberra in 2016. (ABC News: Meghna Bali)
"None of us want to be stoned. We just want to be a part of life," she said.
She would prefer to be benefitting from a medicinal cannabis scheme introduced in the ACT in 2016 but, like many others in her situation, she has not been able to find a doctor willing to prescribe the treatment.
"I just realised how many doctors are ignorant and arrogant," she said.
"They are willing to put you on all sorts of drugs and then they have a thing about cannabis."
She said her regular GP was supportive of the treatment but told her she had to go to Sydney to get on the scheme — a difficult request for a person who is often bedridden.
"That's where I'm going to be doing it … there's nowhere in Canberra," she said.
Doctors need more time for training: AMA
Australian Medical Association (AMA) ACT President Antonio Di Dio said he was disappointed the scheme had failed to take off in Canberra.
He said many Canberra doctors wanted to be part of the trial but had difficulty finding time to partake in training and accreditation.
"Anecdotally, we've identified a lot of GPs who are interested in doing it. But unfortunately, in relation to training, most GPs are very busy people," he said.
"Predominantly the barrier is education and training for the GPs to prescribe."
Dr Di Dio said as more patients demanded treatment, more doctors would prioritise training.
Chronic Pain Australia's executive director Benjamin Graham echoed concerns about a lack of Canberra doctors able to prescribe medicinal cannabis.
He said many patients in need, like Ms Trembath Forster, were missing out.
Christian Read insists while medical medicinal cannabis can't cure him of the pain he experiences, it grants him some relief.
"They hit a brick wall when they see their GP," he said.
"The GP either doesn't know too much about it, they really aren't comfortable about it, or they say there's no research or evidence to support medical cannabis."
He said his organisation held Canberra-based information sessions on medicinal cannabis, but the sessions for medical practitioners had to be cancelled because only one doctor registered.
"There doesn't seem to be any sort of appetite to want to engage with us or to hear what the needs of the local community are," he said.
He said many doctors grappled with negative stigma attached to cannabis, and feared being known as "Dr Pot".
"Medical cannabis is very different to street cannabis as well, so this notion that everyone's just going to get high is actually quite wrong," he said.
"The THC element of street cannabis is taken out of [medicinal] cannabis."
Ms Trembath Forster said she hoped she would soon be able to replace her cannabis joints with safe and legal medicinal cannabis oil.
But said she would not be replacing her mindfulness classes, which in lieu of other treatment options, have helped to give her a better quality of life.
"Mindfulness is a way of escaping your body when you can't escape your body. And we can't. People in chronic pain cannot," she said.
Originally published here: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-23/canberra-medicinal-cannabis-scheme-failing/11140836