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Medical cannabis in the Territory: First NT patient fills their script

Medical cannabis in the Territory: First NT patient fills their script

By Lauren Robert ABC News / Aunty

Rows of green medicinal cannabis plants inside a green house in Bundaberg
It is possible doctors are taking a cautious approach to prescribing medicinal cannabis.(ABC Wide Bay: Kallee Buchanan)

The first Territory patient to ever fill a script for medical cannabis in the NT has now been approved, NT Health has confirmed.

A spokeswoman for NT Health said individual patients from the Territory could have seen interstate specialists or been prescribed medicinal cannabis as part of a trial, but the Department had no record of it.

It's a small percentage of the 11,000 patients Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt estimated last month had been approved to access medicinal cannabis products Australia-wide.

But Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Harry Nespolon wasn't surprised by the slow uptake in the Territory.

Dr Harry Nespolon, President of the Royal College of General Practitioners looks to the camera with a serious expression.
Dr Harry Nespolon, President of the Royal College of General Practitioners, is not surprised only one person from the NT has received a prescription.(ABC News)

"Access to medicinal cannabis in the Territory and across Australia can prove difficult," he said.

"It's likely that doctors are taking a cautious approach to prescribing because there is to some degree a lack of high-quality evidence into effectiveness of medicinal cannabis for most conditions."

Dr Nespolon said there was a need for a consistent national regulatory prescribing framework that was user-friendly with fewer hoops to jump through so patients who might benefit could access medicinal cannabis.

More training for Territory GPs

Medical Cannabis Council director Carol Ireland said the NT had a smaller — and more transient — population than other Australian jurisdictions, which was why fewer Territorians obtained the drugs than people living elsewhere in Australia.

A doctor holds a stethoscope in two clasped hands
Cannabis Council CEO Carol Ireland would like GPs in the NT to have more training about prescribing medical cannabis.(Flickr: Alex Proimos)

"In the Territory, there's two ways that a doctor can go about [prescribing medical cannabis] and one is using the Government's special access scheme and the other is if they become an authorised prescriber, and that's applying and having that approved," Ms Ireland said.

Ms Ireland said there weren't many authorised prescribers in the NT.

"The doctors in the Northern Territory certainly haven't yet embraced cannabis as a therapeutic option yet."

Ms Ireland said she would like to see government-funded training on cannabinoids made available for both doctors and patients in the NT.

"The sooner it becomes mainstream medicine and it's just another tool in the doctor's tool kit, then I think that's going to be better," she said.

A need for more 'quality evidence'

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia SA and NT vice president and Health Providers Alliance NT board member Sam Keitaanpaa has run medical cannabis information sessions for medical professionals in Darwin.

Mr Keitaanpaa said very few people actually attended the sessions and was unsure if running government-funded information sessions would attract more participants.

"In my opinion this may be as many GPs may not have patients where CBD [cannabidiol] and/or THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] will benefit — we have had other products containing THC and CBD plus THC available for years but use of these has been very low as well, so its not surprising to see low uptake of this expanded range of products."

Close up of marijuana heads
Just one person from the NT has had a prescription filled for medical cannabis in the Territory.(IStock: Trevor Smith)

Mr Keitaanpaa said there were two main reasons for the slow uptake of medical cannabis in the Northern Territory.

One was the lack of quality studies on the effectiveness of medicines containing CBD and THC compared to existing therapies and strict guidelines around its prescribing in terms of product selection and dose.

The second was the high price tag.

He said the long-term solution to boosting the prescription rate of medical cannabis in the NT was more quality evidence of the effectiveness and safety of the drugs.

No 'barriers or red tape', insists Natasha Fyles

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles insisted there was no red tape to medical cannabis in the Northern Territory.

Natasha Fyles wearing a pink shirt.
NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said there was no red tape stopping doctors in the NT from prescribing medical cannabis.(ABC News)

"There is no separate NT authorisation process to prescribe — there is no NT legislation restricting the access to medicines that contain cannabis."

Ms Fyles said the Health Department had already provided and would continue to provide extensive information to inform GPs about prescribing medicinal cannabis