GPs in the dark about medical cannabis

They want more training in prescribing the drug

Most Australian GPs support the use of medical cannabis, but admit they don't know enough about prescribing it for their patients.


A survey of 640 GPs found 56.5% supported medical cannabis being made available on prescription, with most having had at least one patient ask about it.

Most said they wanted to be trained in prescribing the drug rather than patients having to go to a specialist, according to the study by the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the University of Sydney.

However, they felt their knowledge was inadequate and only one-quarter felt comfortable discussing it with patients.

Eighty-six per cent of the GPs rated their knowledge about medicinal cannabis as poor, while 65% "strongly disagreed" that they knew how to access the drug for patients.

Professor Iain McGregor, academic director at the Lambert Initiative, said the findings demonstrated an urgent need to educate and train GPs to prescribe the drug.

"Despite recent policy announcements, fewer than 800 patients have accessed legal medicinal cannabis in Australia," he said.

"Part of the problem is the specialist-based model that largely excludes GPs from prescribing; most Australians know how hard it is to access specialist medical care, let alone a specialist with an interest in cannabis-based medicines.

"This situation continues to frustrate patients, many of whom simply continue to access illicit cannabis to self-medicate."

The study, published by the BMJ Open on Wednesday, found that GPs strongly supported medical cannabis being prescribed to help people cope with cancer-related pain, palliative care and epilepsy.

Support was much lower for prescribing the drug for depression and anxiety.

In April, health ministers decided to streamline the process for patients wanting to quick access to medical cannabis.

The Commonwealth-led deal involves a single approval process under the TGA, avoiding duplication with state authorities.

Despite political interest in pushing the product to market, AMA president Dr Tony Bartone urged caution due to a lack of robust data.

"Unfortunately, this is a case where the cart came before the horse," he told ABC Radio.

Medical cannabis hasn't "gone through its usual channels of preparation and supply and logistical surety". — with AAP

Read the full study here