More advocacy needed for medicinal cannabis

26 August 2021

On 12 August NICM Health Research Institute hosted an all-day virtual Medicinal Cannabis Symposium. Attracting 126 attendees ranging from researchers, academics, students, industry, healthcare providers and government, the presentations and panels provided valuable insights and discussion about current research and also the challenges and regulatory development and education regarding medicinal cannabis.

“We have been running our medicinal cannabis symposiums for several years now, and every symposium brings with it much support and diverse topics and speakers – this year was no different,” says Professor Dennis Chang, NICM Health Research Institute Director.

“It is a testament to all those in the field and also the high standards and hard work in coordinating such an event from our project team, led by Justin Sinclair and Professor Jerome Sarris.

“We wanted to ensure we had a good mix of preclinical and clinical research, and excellent and topical panel discussions as well.

“We were very fortunate to have present again for this year’s Symposium Adjunct Professor John Skerritt, from the Australian Government, who provided an invaluable update from the regulators – the TGA and ODC.

“Our two opening keynotes set the tone for the day’s event - Dr Richard Di Natale, Former Federal Senator for Victoria and Former Leader of the Australian Greens discussed the legislative reforms and what still needs to be done to improve access for patients.

“Adjunct Professor Caroline Maccallum, from the University of British Columbia, provided a cannabis safety update and discussed impairment, opioids and patient complexities,” said Professor Chang.

Throughout the day speakers presented on broad medicinal cannabis research areas from cognition, dementia, motor neuron disease, Alzheimer’s disease, endometriosis, cancer, epilepsy, insomnia, Tourette’s syndrome, and cannabis safety and patient complexities.

The panel sessions covered policy developments and challenges, and also the importance of research from an industry perspective.

The first panel focused on cannabis and driving and occupational health and safety implication. De-stigmatisation of medicinal cannabis featured strongly in the discussion.

During this panel, Dr Maggie Davidson from Western Sydney discussed legislation regarding employment and cannabis use, drug and alcohol policies in the workplace, the need for employee disclosure, and specific high-risk occupations that require a more rigid approach to risk management.

Ms Fiona Patten, MP, Member for Northern Metropolitan Region in the Victorian Parliament’s Legislative Council and Federal Leader of the Reason Party and Adjunct Professor David Heilpern from Southern Cross University voiced the importance of advocacy work for change and suggested transformation is needed at the point of prescription and also the roadside point of detection and safe driving laws and looking internationally to see what was successful.

In the panel discussion, Adjunct Professor Daniel Perkins from Swinburne University of Technology also expressed the need for medical exemption to be introduced for patients, as there is for other prescription medications, and suggested various measures that could be implemented to ensure road safety.

Dr Thomas Arkell also from Swinburne University of Technology shared research investigating an app that assesses functional impairment rather than detection in the body, and concluded the panel discussion with the recommendation for further high quality studies generating an evidence base to demonstrate that medical cannabis under medical supervision does not produce impairment.

The last panel of the day, was moderated by Rhys Cohen Editor of Cannabiz and featured representatives from industry who discussed the importance of research from their perspective.

NICM Health Research Institute looks forward to hosting the next Medicinal Cannabis Symposium in the near future.

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