Gail Wiseman, general manager of the newly formed Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA), reveals the association’s plans to shape the cannabis industry for the better.

While the story of medicinal cannabis goes back centuries, in Australia it has only been in recent times that the movement to provide legal access has taken shape.

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The legalisation of medicinal cannabis in November 2016 was a major achievement for all who had been involved in campaigning for this life-changing treatment to be available to patients in need. 

For decades, the reputation of cannabis as a misused and dangerous narcotic has prevented its unique properties and benefits from helping patients with severe epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, chronic non-cancer pain and palliative care. In truth, medicinal cannabis is safer than many alternative treatments, such as the opioids which have gained an increasingly alarming reputation through misuse and addiction. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose from marijuana (cannabis) is unlikely. In contrast, the CDC notes that two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid. Overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioidsheroin and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) have increased almost six times since 1999. Overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 47,000 people in 2018, and 32 per cent of those deaths involved prescription opioids.

The 2016 legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia then led to the next challenge – continuing to build the evidence base that medicinal cannabis actually works.   

However, as noted on the TGA website: “There have only been a limited number of well-designed clinical studies on medicinal cannabis and so it is hard for some doctors to find quality evidence to support decisions to prescribe medicinal cannabis.” In Australia, medicinal cannabis is therefore still only prescribed by a minority of clinicians and the process to do so is time consuming. 

Then there are the strict conditions placed on cultivators, manufacturers and distributors resulting in a legal industry that produces medicinal cannabis that is frequently more expensive than illegally grown and supplied cannabis.