Medicinal cannabis legalisation: sick ‘will mull options’

Epilepsy Association of WA chief executive Suresh Rajan with the Rotary Club of Cockburn’s Geoff Webb earlier this year. Source – Facebook.
Epilepsy Association of WA chief executive Suresh Rajan with the Rotary Club of Cockburn’s Geoff Webb earlier this year. Source – Facebook.

AN ADVOCATE for the |legalisation of medicinal cannabis believes it could be more than 12 months before patients are able to access it, tempting them to source it via alternative channels.

Medicinal cannabis became a controlled prescription drug on November 1, opening the door for its use as a treatment in strict circumstances.

Its use will be heavily controlled, with a prescription needed and only pharmacists able to dispense it.

But despite Health Minister John Day saying medicinal cannabis products could be available in early 2017, Epilepsy Association of WA chief executive Suresh Rajan believes a number of factors will push that back to 2018.

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One of those is the fact any doctor wishing to prescribe medicinal cannabis would need approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration and an expert advisory committee, which is yet to be established.

He said it would also take time for local manufacturers to apply for a licensing permit, while months will be needed to produce and test a suitable product.

He added Perth doctors would be hesitant to import it from overseas.

“We’re happy but there is still work to be done,” he said, saying he was behind the drug’s use because it had been shown to reduce severity and frequency of seizures.

“The process of growing, producing and making sure it’s a suitable product will mean it’s 2018 before it can be used by a patient.

“We could import it but it is costly and doctors will be loath to prescribe an overseas product.”

Australian Medical Association WA President Andrew Miller said preliminary findings showed medicinal cannabis could be quite effective in helping |patients suffering from spasms associated with multiple sclerosis but backed other drugs previously approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for treatment of other conditions.

“It must be stressed that medicinal cannabis in the Australian context is not raw cannabis, rather it is one or two of the hundreds of chemicals that are found in the plant,” Dr Miller said.

“These derivatives are not the all-curing wonder drug that some advocates claim and are only effective in a very limited scope of medicine.

“There needs to be more robust studies on the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis before it is used in other areas where we already have medicines.

“It is very unlikely it will have wide applications that will sustain a significant industry.”

While acknowledging the drug might not be a super cure for all seizure types and there was still plenty of testing to do, Mr Rajan said Epilepsy WA was behind its use because it had shown to help in many cases.

But he said parents desperate for their children to utilise it as part of their treatment may consider alternative methods of sourcing the drug rather than wait, if they were not already.

“There are many parents doing that now,” he said.

“There’s no doubt.

“This isn’t about getting high. All parents are trying to do is help their child who may be having hundreds of seizures every day.

“It’s one of the most confronting things you could see.”

Mr Day said the State Government was doing everything it could to facilitate access to medicinal cannabis to approved patients.

“It is important that people follow due process and any moves to circumvent this illegally will be dealt with by appropriate law enforcement,” he said.