University of Newcastle academic flags concerns over medical marijuana | poll

Looking ahead: "We might get there in the next two or three years, but it is not going to be next week," Professor Jennifer Martin said. Picture: Simone De Peak
Looking ahead: "We might get there in the next two or three years, but it is not going to be next week," Professor Jennifer Martin said. Picture: Simone De Peak

A UNIVERSITY of Newcastle academic has warned more rigorous research is needed into medical marijuana before it is rolled out as a therapeutic good.

Chair of clinical pharmacology Professor Jennifer Martin and St Vincent's Health Associate Professor Yvonne Bonomo were published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday, raising their concerns about a lack of reliable information around dosage, efficacy, safety and prescription of cannabinoids.

"We certainly don't want to stop what's going on at the moment, it's a great investment,” Professor Martin said, referring to the state government funded research and the federal government passing amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to allow controlled cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes.

"But the government alluded to this legislation being the missing link for people to access it and what we're saying is there is still a very long way to go,” Professor Martin said. "There are multiple missing links. 

"We need to be realistic, this is not going to happen quickly if we want to do it safely and effectively. 

"It's worth waiting to get this right, because once it's out there in the community it will be harder to get access to research funding." 

Professor Martin said despite cannabis being legal in many American states and dispensed from pharmacies in The Netherlands, there had not been any reliable data collected on what form of administration and dosages had been most effective for each condition.

She said she hoped an upcoming Newcastle-based trial of 30 cancer patients using different dosages of vaporised botanical leaf cannabis would prove valuable. Results expected at the end of the year will be used in a state-wide study of palliative care patients comparing this form of cannabis against a placebo.

The state government has also funded trials of cannabis for children with a specific type of epilepsy and cancer patients receiving chemotherapy who are experiencing nausea and vomiting. 

Terminally ill adults continue to receive compassionate access to cannabis.

Professor Martin said she would like to hear more from patients, as well as from the Australian Medical Council and others about what training doctors, pharmacists and nurses would require.

In addition, she said more discussion was needed about changes to medicines and poisons legislation; consistent quality; stability in different storage conditions; and the length of time the drug would be prescribed.

"The most important thing will be to get the regulatory framework right, that's pretty vital,”she said. 

"At the moment we're asking the Therapeutic Goods Administration to make a decision [to reschedule medical cannabis from a prohibited drug to a controlled drug] on something they don't have any evidence for. 

"In relation to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, we can't fund a drug for which there is no evidence."

Both authors are contributing to pharmacology modules about cannabis for the University of Newcastle's Doctor of Medicine.