18 April 2017

The Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis, Communique #1

The Australian Advisory Council on the Medicinal Use of Cannabis (the Council) met on Friday 7 April 2017 for its inaugural meeting.

The Council was chaired by Professor James Angus AO and 13 of the 16 members were in attendance. Members represented professional organisations, specialist areas of the medical profession and patient groups.

In addition to receiving briefings on the regulatory scheme for the cultivation, production and manufacture of medicinal cannabis is Australia, members discussed three main areas of interest:

  • The current state of evidence for the use of medicinal cannabis
  • Patient access and medical practitioner education
  • Aligning state, territory and Commonwealth schemes.

State of evidence

The Council reviewed the findings of the recent US report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017, 'The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research'.

The Council went on to discuss the timing of expected guidance from the Therapeutic Goods Administration, with draft documents looking at epilepsy and palliative care currently under development.

While members were encouraged by the available evidence relating to particular forms of medicinal cannabis for use in some specific treatments, there was a consensus that further research and clinical trials in Australia is needed in supporting a broader evidence base and subsequently giving medicinal practitioners comfort on the efficacy of the various forms of medicinal cannabis against specific patient indications.

Patient access and medical practitioner education

The Council discussed current pathways to access medicinal cannabis including Special Access Scheme Category B, clinical trials and through Authorised Prescribers. Members noted that while medicinal cannabis has been available in Australia for some years, recent changes to law and policy are improving availability and subsequently the speed of access.

The Council acknowledged that the availability of medicinal cannabis is lower than what some patient advocates would like to see, but also accepted that the medical profession broadly does not have a strong understanding of the application of medicinal cannabis.

This issue is made more complex due to the array of possible medical cannabis products and the breadth of claims being made around patient conditions that might be addressed through such products.

The Council discussed the use of the Special Access Scheme Category A and broadly agreed that prescribing medicinal cannabis through that scheme represented a risk to patients, given the lack of information available on the possible adverse events, drug interactions and contraindications that accompanies most other products used in that scheme. However, members requested additional information on the medicines currently being used in the scheme so they could better assess the matter and provide further advice to the Minister.

Aligning the jurisdictions

The Council noted work being conducted to align the jurisdictions, with working groups in place with representatives from all states and territories in three specialist areas: law enforcement, cultivation and production, and patient access. Members have volunteered to attend future working group meetings.

The Council has noted that differences in regulatory policy and patient access between jurisdictions are likely to add confusion to an already complex and emerging scheme. The Council will work through the Department of Health to look at how such differences could be addressed.

Next meeting

The Council agreed to meet again in June of 2017.