Medical cannabis in Australia has been available since 2016, so why are patients treating endometriosis with cannabis sourcing it illegally?
A recent study has found that almost 75 per cent of Australian patients, treating endometriosis with cannabis, are sourcing the medicine illegally to ease painful symptoms associated with the disorder.
Researchers at Western Sydney University conducted a survey of 186 Australian respondents, of whom just 23 per cent are accessing cannabis through a doctor’s prescription, The West Australian reports.
Medical cannabis was approved for use in Australia in 2016.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is an often painful disorder which causes tissue, similar to that which normally lines the inside of the uterus (the endometrium), to grow outside of the uterus causing inflammation and scarring. This most commonly affects the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining of the pelvis.
It is estimated that one in nine Australian women have endometriosis.
Respondents self-reported the positive outcomes of using cannabis to manage the pain and inflammation associated with endometriosis.
Why aren’t patients getting cannabis prescriptions?
Chief Scientific Officer with the Australian Natural Therapeutics Group and lead author Justin Sinclair, attributes the high proportion of patients with endometriosis sourcing cannabis illegally to stigma surrounding medical cannabis.
Despite its legalisation for medical purposes in Australia in 2016, the Therapeutic Goods Administration does not consider cannabis a first-line therapy for any condition, meaning other treatment options must be exhausted first.
Most medical cannabis prescriptions in Australia are for: chronic pain, such as arthritis or lower back pain; anxiety, cancer-related symptoms, such as pain or nausea; epilepsy; insomnia; multiple sclerosis; and other neurological disorders. The majority of patients seeking access to medical cannabis do so for pain management, although the evidence for many painful conditions is limited.
In light of the revealing survey, Sinclair expressed concern that people were using cannabis without medical supervision. He explains that the survey findings show that the stigma surrounding cannabis remains pervasive.
Patients with endometriosis are fearful of legal repercussions or judgement by society and their doctors, perhaps believing that their doctor will be unwilling to prescribe them legal cannabis.
Sinclair suggests that improving patient communication about medicinal cannabis may reduce medical oversight and improve patients’ access by dismantling the stigma associated with the medicine.
Almost all survey respondents said they would continue using cannabis because it provides more effective pain relief than other available treatments.
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