A recent survey conducted in Australia has indicated that approximately 30% (or one third) of patients suffering with chronic pain have broached the topic medicinal cannabis with their general practitioner.  However, many have had their queries met with reluctancy, with doctors generally citing a lack of knowledge about the treatment as the biggest barrier.  As frustrating as this may be for cannabis advocates and chronic pain sufferers alike, there is plenty of reason for optimism.  Patient led demand for natural alternatives, specialised cannabis doctors, the rise of Telehealth and the extremely high regulatory standard enforced in Australia create an environment that just may lead to a world class plant medicine industry, albeit somewhat delayed.

What is Chronic Pain

Generally speaking, pain is a short-term sensation experienced as a result of an accident, injury or condition that subsides as one recovers.  For almost a quarter of Australian adults, however, the pain persists after the initial cause has technically healed, resulting in what is categorised as chronic pain.  For other, there is no identifying cause for the pain, which often has a knock-on effect, negatively impacting the patient’s mental health.  Amplify this already tumultuous situation with the highly addictive nature of opioid-based pain medicines and it is no wonder patients are looking to alternative, but effective, treatments.  An exciting and promising opportunity for both suffering patients and the medical industry.

The Opportunity for Medical Practitioner

Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute’s Justin Sinclair stated that “Doctors may not want to prescribe cannabis because they don’t know enough about it”.  Moreover, many patients who have spoken about cannabis with their doctors were discouraged as the treatment was perceived as “too expensive”.  These two factors are at the heart of the issues but fortunately the industry is working together to address them both.

Training:  There is an emerging wave of domestic training institutions that are specifically curated to educate Australian doctors on the all-things medicinal cannabis.  Medihuanna, for example, are an accredited education provider focused on developing medicinal cannabis education for all health professionals.  Their course and workshops are both scheduled or self-paced and eligible for self-directed CPD points.

Cost Reduction:  Put simply, this is economics 101.  As more doctors are willing to prescribe, the demand in turn increased, allowing manufactures to achieve greater economies of scale, resulting in cheaper medication all round.  There has been early evidence of this, particularly with explicitly “patient first” cannabis companies aggressively working to reduce prices.  The unofficial goal for patients and cannabis entrepreneurs alike is meet or even be cheaper than the black market.

The Opportunity for Patients

Patient Lead:  Australia, much like to the majority of countries/territories where the medicinal cannabis industry is lightyears ahead of ours, is being led by patients.  The general public is increasingly aware of the adverse effects that opioids can leave a patient with.  From crippling addiction, through to debilitating side effects, it is no wonder so many patients are learning from the rest of the developed world and turning to natural medicines.  Generally, the patient is hoping for one of three results:

  • Management of the symptoms (i.e. pain)
  • Management of the negative side effects of the “traditional” medicine
  • Address the root issue and get back to homeostasis
    • Note: Clinic data is still required but early research has provided reason for optimism

Specialised Care:  Many GPs are broadly unaware of the endocannabinoid system and its crucial role in regulating human mood/anxiety/appetite/sleep, let alone how to effectively walk a patient through their medicinal cannabis options.  Fortunately, Australia is seeing an increase in the number of plant medicine clinics with a team of doctors who specialise in the field.  Importantly, cannabis doctors will encourage patients to provide a “referral” from their regular GP to ensure all prescriptions are complimentary.  For some though, particularly those in regional locations, there is not a walk-in cannabis clinic within a realistic radius.  Luckily, there is a new medical model that has been thrust into our everyday life, in no small part due to the national lockdowns; the era of Telehealth.

TeleHealth:  Be it physical proximity, lockdown or simply the way our culture is evolving, Telehealth is the preferred option for many Australians.  This is amplified with plant medicine, particularly for those who may have faced push back, or even judgement, from their regular GP when discussing plant medicine.  As such, many cannabis clinics are now offering Telehealth consultation while over companies, such as Canwell, are building bespoke Telehealth platforms with a focus on accessibility, data security and convenience for both the patients and the doctors to use.

If you or a loved one are suffering from chronic pain and are considering medicinal cannabis as a potential treatment, please speak to your GP or to one of our SAS accredited doctors here.