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Australian Doctors, Experts Advocate Medical Marijuana

Leading health experts are calling for medical marijuana to be legalized in Australia, arguing that cannabis is both a safe and effective form of medicine.

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, a group of prominent doctors and health authorities, including Laurence Mather, PhD of Sydney Medical School and Alex Wodak of the Alcohol and Drug Services at St Vincent’s Hospital, are pushing for cannabis to be reintroduced to medical practice.

“The medicinal use of cannabis was prohibited in Australia some fifty years ago, at a time when scientific knowledge about it was meagre. It is now clear that cannabis has genuine medicinal utility, but this has been largely overlooked, with research and society’s attention, in most parts of the world, being directed towards the hazards of its recreational use rather than the benefits of its medicinal use.”

The authors go on to outline the proven medical benefits of cannabis as well as its impressive safety profile, citing research that indicates “the frequencies of both side effects and dependence are low.”

The authors also refer to data that suggest medical marijuana is supported by 69% of the Australian public, as well as the rapid growth of medical marijuana research over the years.

“The number of Medline-indexed publications has doubled each decade, from about 400 in 1990 to about 1600 in 2010. A stronger medical consensus is emerging.”

Published earlier this month, the paper comes just weeks after a New South Wales parliamentary committee rejected a proposal to legalize medical marijuana for terminally ill patients.

The decision received quick backlash from experts in cancer and pain management, including Michael Cousins, director of the Pain Management Research Institute at Royal North Shore Hospital.

“In view of the lack of options we currently have, I think it is very important that we take advantage of this option (cannabis).”

President of the Northern Territory branch of the Australian Medical Association, Peter Beaumont, also added his voice to the debate, telling ABC that he believes cannabis “could be useful and relatively safe from side-effects if used in a controlled manner in people with certain conditions.”

Despite major shifts in medical marijuana policy around the world, cannabis remains in the most restrictive category of substances (schedule 9) under Australian federal law and is not recognized as having medical use.

December 2013