Medical marijuana: not as easy as it seems

You will have heard about the legislative changes that allow Queensland doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis. This has created a perception of easy access to cannabis products.

Although there may be a place for the drug in the treatment of certain conditions, things are not as easy as they seem.

The big problem is that medicinal cannabis has not been tested properly. We don’t know enough about how effective it is as a medical treatment and what the longer-term side effects are on body and mind – including tolerance and dependence.

There are many immediate side effects such as confusion, hallucinations, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, diarrhoea, drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting.

Current limited scientific evidence suggests that medicinal cannabis may be suitable to treat severe muscular spasms and other symptoms of multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, severe seizures, and certain problems during end-of-life care.

For these conditions treatment via a doctor or scientific research program may be approved if conventional treatments have not been successful.

The application process is lengthy and the medications need to be imported from overseas. Medicinal cannabis is not on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) so the treatment may not be cheap.

Smoking marijuana is not recommended as it exposes the body to harmful carcinogens and may cause chest infections. Remember it is still illegal to home-grow cannabis and to drive after using cannabis.

We really need more research to be able to give better advice about when cannabis may be useful.

People who use recreational marijuana to reduce stress are advised to talk to their doctor about healthier ways to manage stress, anxiety or mood problems.

Dr Edwin Kruys is a GP working at Ochre Health in Maleny and Montville.

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