Professor Adrian Dunlop's trial on using cannabis medicine to treat cannabis dependence made interesting findings.
A cannabis spray has been successfully used to treat Hunter residents who are dependent on the drug.
The study included patients from Hunter New England Health's cannabis clinic.
It involved a 12-week clinical trial of 128 people taking a cannabis-based medication called Nabiximols.
It was the first study to show Nabiximols was a "safe and effective" treatment for cannabis dependence.
The product includes equal parts cannabidiol (a non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant, also known as CBD) and the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC). It is sprayed under the tongue.
As part of the study, half the group received Nabiximols and half placebo. All participants received counselling.
The study's chief investigator, Professor Adrian Dunlop, said those who received the medicine reported a "significant reduction in cannabis use" compared to patients who received placebo.
"Patients felt better and reported they felt healthier," said Professor Dunlop, who is Hunter New England Health's drug and alcohol services director.
Professor Dunlop said using a cannabis-based medicine to treat cannabis dependence was similar to nicotine replacement for people who can't stop smoking tobacco.
He also compared the method to treating opiate dependence with methadone.
"You mightn't think cannabis is a big problem, compared to some other drugs like heroin or methamphetamines. But it is for people who are dependent on cannabis."
Nabiximols is registered in Australia for the treatment of muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis, but it's not subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Gaining access to the medicine to treat cannabis dependence would be "theoretically possible" through a doctor under the federal special access scheme.
Professor Dunlop said the study would help provide evidence for any such application.
However, Nabiximol use for cannabis dependence would probably cost about $200 a week.
Professor Dunlop hopes more affordable forms of medical cannabis - ideally a non-smokable form - become available under special access or clinical trials.
"There's a demand for this treatment out there, there's no doubt about it," he said.
The push for medicinal cannabis to be more widely available for a range of health conditions is rising.
Asked for his general opinion on the subject, Professor Dunlop said cannabis involved "a strange divide".
"You could have the same drug administered and if you like it that's bad, but if it helps your pain that's good?" he said.
Originally published here: https://www.newcastleherald.com.au/story/6334092/medicinal-cannabis-result-in-hunter-study/