A newly formed group with a vision to offer medicinal cannabis education, advocacy and peer support to nurses has launched this week.
- The Australian Cannabis Nurses Association is being publicly launched this week
- Co-founder Simone O’Brien says they want to decrease stigma and increase knowledge about the medication
- It coincides with the inaugural Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week
Nurse practitioner and medicinal cannabis prescriber, Simone O’Brien, will lead the Australian Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA) alongside co-founders Deb Ranson and Jodie Davis.
“There’s misinformation about cannabis with clinicians,” Ms O’Brien said.
“We are very keen to decrease the stigma.”
The group wants education about the endocannabinoid system included in undergraduate nursing degrees.
This week marks seven years since the Federal Parliament passed legislation to legalise medicinal cannabis in Australia.
Most cannabis medications are classified as unapproved therapies, which means permission is required from the Commonwealth Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) before a prescription is issued.
Since 2016, the number of prescriptions has skyrocketed from just a handful to well over 100,000 last year.
More training needed
Ms O’Brien first became interested in medicinal cannabis after an accident in 2019 left her with a “really nasty break” in her leg.
During months off work and in rehab, she looked into whether medicinal cannabis could work for her.
“It was just amazing for my pain,” Ms O’Brien said.
“I thought I’m going to start prescribing it as well because it’s a really valid option for people who have chronic pain.”
Ms O’Brien said the ACNA would offer medicinal cannabis training for nurses at all levels.
They will also offer peer support for nurses and advocate for better patient access.
“A lot of patients will go and speak to their health providers, whether that’s a GP, a psychologist, psychiatrists, and they say, ‘No, cannabis won’t suit you’,” she said.
“We want to get the word out that this is a very safe medicine and it’s applicable across a whole lot of different patient populations.”
The ABC contacted the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) for comment. None were able to respond before deadline.
The AMA has consistently advocated for caution regarding medicinal cannabis.
“Though there is a growing body of evidence regarding the therapeutic use of cannabinoids, it is still experimental,” the AMA position statement said.
The statement calls for clinical trials to be conducted and said where medicinal cannabis is “deemed safe and effective” it should only be made available after existing treatments have failed.
The RACGP also highlighted the need for “further high-quality research into the safety and effectiveness of medicinal cannabis products, as the current evidence is limited and inconclusive”.
“The current available evidence does, however, suggest a possible role for medicinal cannabis products in a number of areas,” the RACGP statement said.
“Therefore, if after conventional, evidence-based treatments have failed, and the specialist general practitioner (GP) feels that medicinal cannabis products are a viable treatment option for their patients, they should … be able to prescribe appropriate medicinal cannabis products.”
Co-founding director of United In Compassion and the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA), Lucy Haslam, said the formation of the ACNA was “exciting”.
Mrs Haslam said the lack of awareness around medicinal cannabis often saw patients discriminated against.
“There are patients losing their work because of outdated drug testing,” Mrs Haslam said.
“Sometimes patients go into facilities, like hospitals, respite care centres, or aged care centres, and they are not able to access a legally prescribed and legally supplied product because the staff don’t have the awareness that they probably should.”
The association’s launch will form part of the inaugural Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week, run by AMCA.
Mrs Haslam first started campaigning to legalise medicinal cannabis in 2014 with her son Dan, who relied on the drug after he was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.
Mrs Haslam said many patients still struggle to find reliable information about the medication.
“We want to help patients understand that it is now legal, that there are legal pathways,” she said.
While this year Medicinal Cannabis Awareness Week will be a community-run event, AMCA hopes the Federal Parliament will formally recognise it in the future.
“Then it will be an enduring week where we can sort of focus on some of the issues and continue to make things better for patients,” Mrs Haslam said.
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