Medicinal cannabis products, which cover a range of cannabis preparations for therapeutic use including oils, tinctures and extracts are regulated by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration.)
Medicinal cannabis is used in symptom management in MS, mainly for neuropathic pain and spasticity as there is evidence that it may be effective in helping to manage these MS symptoms. And anecdotes received from members of the MS community indicate that they are receiving benefits from the use of cannabis oil to treat MS symptoms such as pain and spasticity. It has also been looked at to ease bladder spasm, sleep, ataxia and tremor but at this stage the evidence is still being collected.
Sativex is currently the only product approved by the TGA for use in symptom management in people with MS, but it is not listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). At this stage Sativex is recommended for treatment only when all other treatments have failed, and is not appropriate for people with conditions such as mood or psychotic disorders.
There are ways to legally access imported medicinal cannabis products via the Special Access and Authorised Prescriber Schemes, administered by the TGA. Legal medicinal cannabis products can only be accessed via your treating doctor or specialist, and only if they believe medicinal cannabis will be beneficial in the treatment of your MS.
It is important to discuss medicinal cannabis with your doctor. If they agree that medicinal cannabis is appropriate, they will need to decide which medicinal cannabis product they want to prescribe for you and organise the appropriate approvals required. You should also discuss your ability to access a pharmacy that is able to dispense medicinal cannabis products. And you should be aware of the cost of these products (which may be as much as $400-$500 per month), as they are not yet available on the PBS.
Medical professionals who want to find out more about prescribing medicinal cannabis, will be interested in this article by Jonathon C Arnold, Tamara Nation and Iain S McGregor first published in the NPS Medicinewise publication, Australian Prescriber on 29 September 2020, titled “Prescribing medicinal cannabis”.
To quote from the article, “Prescribing medicinal cannabis may feel like a ‘leap in the dark’ for many GPs who feel uneducated in this emerging area of clinical practice. Australian doctors are fielding daily enquiries about medicinal cannabis from their patients, so it is prudent to learn more regardless of whether they wish to prescribe cannabis or not”. To read the article in full, please visit: https://www.nps.org.au/australian-prescriber/articles/prescribing-medicinal-cannabis
The Australian Government, Department of Health, Therapeutic Goods Administration has provided a publication called, Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis in Australia Patient information Version 1, December 2017, available from this website: https://bit.ly/2LyjbN3
This publication sets out information such as the evidence to support the use of medicinal cannabis, how to access medicinal cannabis and products available. It also contains the reminder that ‘patients should be advised that they are not able to drive while treated with medicinal cannabis’.
In addition, the Medicinal Cannabis Council’s website provides a helpful list of Fact Sheets on medicinal cannabis and links to the laws governing access and use of medicinal cannabis in each state. Please visit: https://www.medicalcannabiscouncil.org.au/resources
For more detailed information on how medicinal cannabis in its various forms may address MS symptoms, how to access medicinal cannabis in Australia and the current laws applicable in each state and territory, please visit MS Research Australia’s website: https://msra.org.au/medicinal-cannabis-ms/
MSA is keen to help expand the treatment options available for people living with MS across the nation – those proven to be effective, which can be accessed legally and have been discussed thoroughly with a persons’ neurologist and healthcare team.
We have been across the medicinal cannabis topic for many years, for more information you may wish to read our news items from 6/8/18, 11/1/18, 14/4/16 and 7/10/15.
(This information has been reviewed by a neurologist and MS nurse who have experience with medicinal cannabis treatments for people with MS.)