A new study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research has analysed how cannabis is represented in medical publications in Australia, finding it is largely framed as a valid medicine.  

Dr Monique Lewis

Lead author Dr Monique Lewis told Cannabiz the way GP publications report and discuss medicinal cannabis is under-researched. 

She said: “The mainstreaming of cannabis into our healthcare system is a fascinating social phenomenon to explore. These journals don’t just influence physicians, but can also influence politicians, policymakers — even patients.”

Along with co-author Professor John Flood, Dr Lewis analysed 117 articles about medicinal cannabis published between 2000 and 2019 in prominent medical journals. 

The titles studied were the Medical Journal of Australia, Australian Doctor, Medical Observer, Australian Journal of General Practice, Australian Family Physician, and Australian Medicine.

“We had noticed mainstream Australian news reports were increasingly receptive towards cannabis as a medicine, and were keen to see how this played out across a selection of professional medical publications,” she said.

“GP publications (as well as the Medical Journal of Australia) were a good starting point, given the role of GPs as a first port of call for most patients. So we sought to map how these publications were talking about medicinal cannabis, captured the articles, then coded and analysed the content.”

Across the study period, the researchers found most reports carried a positive tone towards medicinal cannabis.

Dr Lewis added: “Ultimately, we noticed that medicinal cannabis was being framed in these professional publications as a legitimate medical option, with strong community support, and with the potential for addressing numerous conditions (despite the lack of evidence). 

“Chronic pain, cancer or cancer pain, epilepsy, as well as nausea and chemotherapy were some of the most frequently mentioned health conditions in these reports. Cannabis was also framed as a medicine with risks, and one that is complex to prescribe and access.”

“We were also quite surprised to see that concerns associated with commercialisation and commodification of cannabis were rarely raised.”

Dr Lewis described the research as a “springboard” for future explorations of cannabis through a communications and/or sociological lens. 

“We are interested in further exploring the phenomenon of cannabis’ mainstreaming — including the power of media and mediatisation in this process.

“It would be good to see more research that considers how audiences — including different physicians and patients — are responding to such media about medicines like cannabis, which would offer a richer picture of the impact and influence of these articles.”

Hannah Adler

Hannah is a communications professional and early-career researcher in the disciplines of health communication and health sociology. She is a PhD student at Griffith University currently writing a...