From growers to patients: Multi-stakeholder views on the use of, and access to medicinal cannabis in Australia

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Background Patient interest in the use of cannabis-based medicines (CBMs) has increased in Australia. While recent policy and legislative changes have enabled health practitioners to prescribe CBMs for their patients, many patients still struggle to access CBMs. This paper employed a thematic analysis to submissions made to a 2019 Australian government inquiry into current barriers of patient access to medical cannabis. Methods We identified 121 submissions from patients or family members (n = 63), government bodies (n = 5), non-government organisations (i.e., professional health bodies, charities, consumer organisations or advocacy groups; n = 25), medical cannabis and pharmaceutical industry (n = 16), and individual health professionals, academics, or research centres (n = 12). Data were coded using NVivo 12 software and thematically analysed. The findings were presented narratively using a modified Levesque’s patient-centred access to care framework which includes: i) appropriateness; ii) availability and geographic accessibility; iii) acceptability; and iv) affordability. Results Submissions from government agencies and professional health bodies consistently supported maintaining the current regulatory frameworks and access pathways, whereas an overwhelming majority of patients, advocacy groups and the medical cannabis industry described the current regulatory and access models as ‘not fit for purpose’. These differing views seem to arise from divergent persepctives on (i) what and how much evidence is needed for policy and practice, and (ii) how patients should be given access to medical cannabis products amidst empirical uncertainty. Notwithstanding these differences, there were commonalities among some stakeholders regarding the various supply, regulatory, legislative, financial, and dispensing challenges that hindered timely access to CBMs. Conclusions Progress in addressing the fundamental barriers that determine if and how a patient accesses and uses CBMs needs i) a ‘system-level’ reform that gives due consideration to the geographic disparity in access to prescribers and medical cannabis, and ii) reframing societal and health professional’s views of CBMs by decoupling recreational vs medical cannabis.

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11 November

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