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Bid to weed out GPs’ cannabis oil objections

Tasmanian Botanics manufacturing manager David Gesch in the facility’s cannabis drying room. Picture: Amy Brown

The Southern Hemisphere’s largest medicinal cannabis operation is quietly being developed in a former Hobart asylum-seeker detention camp, despite frustration at the slow uptake of its medicines by doctors.

Tasmanian Botanics – owned by local farmers Tony and Rodney Fehlberg and Chinese-backed Y Cannabis – is ploughing $40m into the modern cannabis growing and processing operation at Pontville.

It already produces 25kg of cannabis flowers each fortnight, processing this into 1700 bottles of liquid medicines that are available under Therapeutic Goods Administration schemes.

A further massive expansion of the high-security site will boost output to 270kg – 18,000 bottles – a fortnight over two years, with jobs increasing from 40 to 150.

This would be enough to satisfy the nation’s entire demand for medicinal cannabis, replacing imports of inferior, less reliable overseas product and allowing exports to Europe.

However, frustration is growing at the difficulty patients report in accessing the medicines under the TGA-administered “special access scheme”.

“This should be a part of the doctors’ tool kit, and for patients to be denied it as an option does seem a little bit backwards,” said the company’s chief operating ­officer, Craig Knight.

“It’s a well-accepted medicine but there is a lack of knowledge and perhaps conservatism (among doctors). We’re not out to convert people but we’d like ­people to be informed and to understand the options.”

The medicines – elixirs or oils – are used for pain relief and anti-nausea treatments for cancer and chronic pain sufferers, as well as for epilepsy and spasticity.

TGA data shows a large increase in nationwide applications for prescriptions of medicinal cannabis from 2560 in 2018 to 73320 in 2021. However, there is an imbalance between states, with Queenslanders disproportionately dominating access to scripts.

Despite Tasmania being on track to become the nation’s leading supplier, only one GP in the state is known to provide access.

This is prompting cancer ­patients to contact Tasmanian Botanics directly, but it is not able to supply the medicines to anyone except doctors.

Tasmanian lung, oesophagus and bone cancer patient Peter Fielding only recently found a GP willing to prescribe medicinal cannabis, forcing him to previously buy an off-the-shelf product from NSW.

He had found it “miraculous”, reducing his pain levels from previous highs ranked 8 out of 10 to as low as .1 out of 10, without the side effects of opioid alternatives.

“It should be used much more readily by the medical profession,” he said. “The next day after my first dose, I could talk, I could swallow. There was no haziness, you have a clear head.”

The TGA said any doctor could apply to access medicinal cannabis, and it was seeking to improve the information flow.

Tasmanian Botanics manufacturing manager David Gesch urged greater efforts to tackle stigma around the drug.

Originally published here: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/science/bid-to-weed-out-gps-cannabis-oil-objections/news-story/43c554ef844f39c93febd8cba9c0e54d

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