Swinburne University researchers are struggling to win industry support for a landmark study into medicinal cannabis and driving despite drug-driving laws being the “biggest barrier to patient access in Australia”. 

Research fellow at the university’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology Dr Thomas Arkell told Cannabiz his team has recruited just four patients for the study so far, with 80 needed to sign up over the next 18 months.

He said although several cannabis clinics have expressed interest, that has not yet translated into active engagement, with very few patients being referred on. 

“Chronic pain is the most common indication for medicinal cannabis use, so we are confident the patients we are looking for are out there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of reaching them.”

The Swinburne University study is a “critical part of the cannabis and driving puzzle”.

The study requires patients who are just about to start using medicinal cannabis, making GPs and clinics critical to its success, he added. 

“We need doctors to support us by referring potentially eligible patients before they go and pick up their script and begin using their medication.” 

The longitudinal study, funded by Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, will investigate how medicinal cannabis affects driving ability and cognitive function during the first three months of treatment.

Participants will be asked to attend the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology in Melbourne before using the medicine for the first time, and then once each month for three months afterwards. 

On each occasion, they will complete a driving simulation task and a range of cognitive assessments. The researchers will also look at changes in pain severity, quality of life, and THC levels in saliva.

The aim is to determine whether medicinal cannabis does in fact impact driving, and if so, to what extent and for how long. 

Arkell urged clinics and GPs to discuss the study with all patients who may be eligible, insisting it will benefit the industry as a whole. 

“This study is an opportunity for academia to work together with industry and health professionals to ensure that our drug-driving laws are evidence-based and equitable.

“The restriction on driving is perhaps the biggest barrier to patient access in Australia. For most people, giving up your ability to drive while using a THC-containing medication is just too big a price to pay.”

He added: “The findings will provide much needed evidence which will play a crucial role in guiding road safety policy both in Australia and overseas. 

“It will also facilitate the development of practical guidelines around driving, so that patients can make sensible and informed decisions with the support of their doctor.

“This study is a critical part of the cannabis and driving puzzle.”

To find out more, email tarkell@swin.edu.au.

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...

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