Tasmanians will have legal access to medicinal cannabis via doctor prescriptions from today, but general practitioners warn that a cautious approach will be taken when prescribing.
The Liberal government promised increased access to medicinal cannabis as part of their updated health policy in March this year, making Tasmania the last state in Australia to allow GPs to prescribe it to their patients.
Some in the community, like West Tamar pharmacist Borys Szydlowski, believe easier access will benefit many in the community who suffer from chronic pain.
"When you are in pain, in palliative care, when you have chronic conditions that need attention, you will look at other options, but unfortunately they may look offshore and these may not be the safest. So from today, we have a therapeutically approved option for those that need it," he said.
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But Royal Australian College of General Practitioners state chair Tim Jackson said more clinical evidence about the efficacy of medicinal cannabis is needed before it can be used as a treatment for chronic, non-cancer pain.
He said doctors would not prescribe medicinal cannabis as a first line of treatment, and needed clearer guidelines to be able to safely proscribe.
"If patients are thinking this is a panacea for everything I think they will be very disappointed. There may be a few patients who benefit from it, but the vast majority will not," Dr Jackson said.
"As recently as last month the Australian and New Zealand College of Anesthetists and Faculty of Pain Medicine said we should not be using this for chronic, non-cancer pain unless it is part of a trial. This statement is backed up by international colleges.
"So it does put us in a bit of a tricky situation when people turn up to get medicinal cannabis prescriptions. Like any treatment we have to be able to put our hand on our hearts, weigh up the pros and cons for our patients, and be really sure that these treatments will not cause them any harm."
Prior to the recent changes, Tasmanians wanting access to medicinal cannabis could book Telehealth conferences with interstate doctors, who would then send the prescriptions directly to patients.
Alternatively, they sought illegal medicines from overseas online sources.
Mr Szdlowski said this practice was concerning because people were putting a lot of faith in unregulated products.
"They don't know what they are getting. It is unapproved, it is untested, it may contain pesticides and heavy metals, and it may not contain the CBD - THC combination that they are seeking."
Both Mr Szdlowski and Dr Jackson raised the issue of a grey area in the law, where people with THC-based medicines could be breaking the law if they drove.
"If you are taking medicinal cannabis we have to recommend that you don't drive. If you are pulled up in a random drug test you may show positive, and a medical prescription does not get you out of that consequence," Dr Jackson said.