I am frequently asked, as a pharmacist who specialises in cancer medicine, what do I think about the use of marijuana for medical conditions?
I often reflect back to dispensing dronabinol (a synthetic THC product) for chemotherapy induced nausea and HIV related wasting syndrome, when I first started working as a pharmacist in a hospital in the early 90s. Back then it was no big deal, the hospital pharmacy imported the medication from overseas, just like we did many other medications which were not marketed in Australia, and supplied it on a doctor’s prescription.
We didn’t stop supplying it because it was difficult to get hold of, rather it just wasn’t very useful any more. New anti-nausea medications came on the market, and these were much more effective at controlling the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and, a new class of medications known as antiretrovirals became available and these were so effective at treating HIV we thankfully were no longer seeing the devastating effects of the disease.
So, as the current debate over the use of marijuana for medical conditions rage and health professionals seem pitted against consumers with politicians (unhelpfully) weighing in on the subject, what are the actual issues associated with prescribing marijuana?
So does that mean I don’t think marijuana is medically useful?
Of course not! I do believe it has a place in modern medical therapy.
Based on what we know at present marijuana may be useful as a mild to moderate pain reliever (when used in conjunction with other medications), and there is also some pre-clinical data on it’s use in combination with chemotherapy in cancer.
But by far the most interesting research is on it’s affect in neurological conditions. Data on reducing the frequency of seizures in refractory epilepsy is compelling and improvements in spasticity in MS are promising.
My hope is that we can address the gaps in health professionals’ knowledge so that we can increase the confidence in using marijuana effectively. You may have noticed that I have not used the common term ‘medicinal marijuana.’ Since we do not say ‘medicinal penicillin’ or ‘medical codeine’ I do not think it is necessary here either.
Chemo@home is committed to consumers and health professionals find the information they need, visit our website to find relevant information on access, supply and evidence of use.
With knowledge comes power, so let’s take a powerful collective step in the pursuit of relevant information regarding patient treatment and care.