Cannabis for medical purposes
Supportive care policy
The potential benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids (active compounds derived from the cannabis plant) for symptom relief in cancer patients have been subject to a number of government reviews and public debate in recent years. Governments at Commonwealth, state and territory levels have made legislative and policy changes to progress access and investigation of cannabis in the treatment of various medical indications. However, there are currently no natural and synthetic forms of cannabis and cannabinoids products approved in Australia for therapeutic use to alleviate side effects of cancer and chemotherapy.
Applications to access unapproved cannabis-based therapeutic products must be considered through the Commonwealth Department of Health special access programs and processed on a case by case basis and are subject to state-based requirements as well as import legislation.
Cannabis and cannabinoids are derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis, also known as marijuana (and colloquially as grass, pot, weed, hash etc.), is made from the dried flowers and leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabinoids are chemicals which act upon cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2 in the body.
The majority of available evidence for the therapeutic use of cannabis and cannabinoids in cancer care addresses their potential efficacy in relieving the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. The effects of cannabis and cannabinoids can differ significantly with different doses and between individuals, and can vary depending on how cannabis compounds enter the body.
Further evidence from randomised controlled trials is required to evaluate the impact of cannabis and cannabinoid products on cancer and side effects of chemotherapy. There are currently a number of trials underway in Australia reviewing the potential benefits of cannabis and its efficacy for use across different medical indications.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) recently released a set of guidances to assist health professionals and patients, especially medical practitioners, who choose to prescribe medicinal cannabis in Australia under current access schemes. These are available on the TGA website.
Developed jointly with the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia
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