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Australian government launches new medical cannabis guidelines

Doctors have been given new guidelines on how effective medical cannabis treatments are. Picture: AP Photo/ Eric Gay AUSTRALIAN doctors have been given official guidelines on how effective medical cannabis is for treating patients with chronic pain and epilepsy. New guidelines released today also provide advice about whether patients with multiple sclerosis or chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting could benefit from the controversial treatment, as well as if it could provide relief to terminally ill Australians in palliative care. The guidelines show medical cannabis can provide some relief to patients with chronic pain from nerve damage. They warn that, for many people, the pain relief would only be modest but that it could help with sleep. There was not enough evidence yet to show the treatment could provide any pain relief for those arthritis or fibromyalgia pain. The guidelines also advise that: “Current studies show no evidence that medicinal cannabis can improve overall quality of life or physical functioning.” For Australians in palliative care, the guidelines recommend that medicinal cannabis should only be used after standard treatments have failed as there are very few studies on its benefits. “While medicinal cannabis products can be used to treat nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, there is little evidence of any benefit to advanced cancer patients with chronic pain,” the advice says. “The published studies in the medical literature showed little effect on appetite, nausea [or] vomiting, pain, dizziness, mental health or sleep problems. “There is also no evidence that medicinal cannabis has any anti-cancer activity in human studies or that it can slow the progression of these conditions.” For those with epilepsy, it advised that there was some evidence that it could assist children and young adults up to age 25 with reducing the frequency of seizures when used in addition to current treatments. There was not enough evidence to make recommendations for older adults. It could also not stop a seizure if it was already underway. “At this time, the use of medicinal cannabis products should only be considered where conventional treatments have been tried and proven unsuccessful in managing the patient’s symptoms,” the advice said. For those with MS, there was some evidence that medical cannabis products, THC extracts and dronabinol, might be effective at reducing pain. There was also some evidence that other products, nabiximols and other THC extracts, could reduce muscle spasticity and improve patient quality of life. Some side effects were reported for those in the MS studies including dizziness, euphoria, feeling ‘high’, diarrhoea and vertigo but most people said the effects were mild or well tolerated.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said a growing number of Australians had shown interest in using medicinal cannabis to treat the symptoms of a number of chronic conditions. Picture: Gary Ramage Launching the guidelines today, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said a growing number of Australians had shown interest in using medicinal cannabis to treat the symptoms of a number of chronic conditions. “GPs, specialists and consumers have been calling for information about medicinal cannabis, and its use and effectiveness to treat certain conditions,” he said. “These documents will help the patient and doctor make a joint decision about whether medicinal cannabis is the right treatment option for their individual circumstances.” Mr Hunt said the decision to use medicinal cannabis products should be made on a case-by-case basis. It was not a one-size-fits-all approach. He also highlighted that the federal government was making it easier to access medicinal cannabis products more rapidly, while still maintaining safeguards for individual and community safety. The guidelines — developed by a team of academics from the Universities of New South Wales, Sydney and Queensland via the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre — have been endorsed by the Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis. For more information on medicinal cannabis products visit the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s website. Originally published here:

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