Two of Australia’s leading cannabis doctors urge other medical practitioners to explore the potential of medical cannabis for their patients
In 1964 Bob Dylan released a song titled ‘The times they are a-changin’. He wrote the song as an anthem of change for the time. I doubt he realised the relevance his lyrics would have in Australia in 2021, but they aptly surmise the journey of our fast-changing medical cannabis landscape.
The medical cannabis industry is blooming in Australia. According to FreshLeaf Analytics, there are currently 45,000 active cannabis-medicine patients in Australia, and this number is forecast to grow to 75,000 by the end of the year. But, more importantly, the number of authorised prescribers has jumped from 29 to 179 since December 2019 . So times certainly are a-changin’, and in the best way possible.
While these stats are all positive indicators of the forward momentum within Australia, there is still resistance from some doctors who subscribe to aging, and frankly false, stories about cannabis.
Dr Jon Teh and Dr Jamie Rickcord are two Australian doctors who are both long-time cannabis advocates and are leading the change we need to see within the medical establishment; they are creating a new narrative for cannabis and pushing Australia into a greener future.
Dr John Teh, Medical Director of PlantMed, and Dr Jamie Rickcord, Founder of Ananda Clinics, have been successfully prescribing cannabis medicine since its legalisation in 2016. They are strong proponents of changing the system and are urging other medical practitioners to explore cannabis as an adjunct therapy for their patients.
They may be following paths less travelled in Australia, but we hope to soon see many more doctors following in their footsteps.
Why doctors should be open to prescribing cannabis
Both Dr Teh and Dr Rickcord work tirelessly to educate, inform and dispel myths and stories for both patients and practitioners. They both run successful medical clinics where cannabinoid medicine takes centre stage and is offered in combination with traditional and integrative practices.
Given cannabis has faced a hundred years of prohibition and stigma, it’s not surprising that its use as a first-line treatment is a relatively new concept within the medical community.
Doctors are naturally conservative and risk-averse, and thanks to the false narratives surrounding the plant, there is a considerable lack of awareness and knowledge. Undoubtedly, many doctors and medical professionals need additional education to help them identify cannabis’ place in modern medicine and further bridge the gap between fact and fiction.
Dr Rickcord and Dr Teh both believe that cannabis can, and will, change the current scope of medicine and disease management, having seen the positive patient outcomes first-hand in their respective clinics.
While both doctors are accustomed to seeing high success rates in patients, the referring doctors are constantly amazed and surprised by the positive results achieved. Importantly, these outcomes give practitioners the confidence to continue referring patients.
It’s a journey of acceptance, education and understanding for the medical community, but the roots of change are slowly threading into the mainstream.
Traditional medicine vs cannabinoid medicine
Traditional western medicine treats symptoms instead of the underlying disease, with the over-prescription of medications such as opioids often a band-aid solution to a much deeper issue.
This is where cannabis medicine differs. The cannabinoids work to replenish and stimulate the human endocannabinoid system, controlling mood, pain, executive function and social behaviour. This, in turn, helps move the body into a state of balance where it can effectively fight disease.
Dr Jamie Rickcord sums it up nicely, saying,
“the [endocannabinoid system] evolved millions of years ago and was perfected, and now it’s virtually the same across every species on the planet, and there’s a plant that’s a potent medicine for it.”
Dr Teh goes on to say,
“the fact that a molecule from the cannabis plant is exactly the same shape, not roughly but pretty much the same shape as our natural cannabinoids which we secret in our body. That’s how the medicine works. The molecules are the right shape to fit the receptors.”
The bodies innate ability to work in synergy with nature and heal is profoundly amazing.
What does the patient journey look like?
The thought of discussing medical cannabis with a doctor may be daunting, especially if they are hesitant or even resistant to the idea. So finding a clinic or practitioner that is cannabis-literate and supportive is an important step.
An appointment might look something like this:
- Book in for an initial consultation either with or without a referral letter.
- Medical history is taken.
- Patient concerns and outcomes are discussed.
- Treatment options are discussed.
- If cannabis is deemed the right medicine, the doctor will go through the approval process via the TGA’s special access scheme (SAS-B).
- Once approval has been granted, the medicine will be dispensed to the patient with very clear instructions and titration guides.
- Follow-up appointments are set to discuss dosage and address any questions or concerns.
The most important part of the process is patient education. Ensuring they understand the medicine, the dosage and how to take it is imperative. Empowering patients with knowledge is critical to successful outcomes and continued acceptance in the community.
The way forward for Australia
As we see governing bodies start to implement top-down change regarding cannabis legislation, we can expect to see cannabis medicine filter into our everyday lives. The most significant change implemented in recent months has been the availability of low-dose CBD oil over the counter in pharmacies. Although, we are yet to see any approved products hit shelves as yet.
Legalising medical cannabis has been a positive first step within Australia and provides clean and safe plant medicine as a treatment option. Currently, 80-90% of cannabis is obtained illegally within Australia, which means it’s challenging to regulate the product’s quality, safety, and efficacy. Dr Teh believes legalising recreational cannabis will remove the industry’s illicit nature and help build a high-quality and reputable cannabis market within Australia.