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Doctor: ‘We need easier access to medicinal cannabis to reduce opioid use’

An Australian medical doctor has called for patients to be given easier and cheaper access to medicinal cannabis, claiming it will reduce the harm associated with highly-addictive and potentially deadly opioids.
Dr Orit Holtzman, who practices in New South Wales, said Australia’s laws currently prevent medical cannabis being offered a first-line treatment, with patients instead given opioids or medication for neuropathic pain before they can be considered.
In NSW, patients require one clinical assessment from the Therapeutic Goods Association before being given access to the drug – previously, approvals had to be overseen by both the Commonwealth and NSW Health departments.
Dr Orit Holtzman believes more doctors need to be educated about the benefits of medical cannabis. (Supplied)
“It’s a huge issue that patients are forced to take opioids even if they wish to try medical cannabis first or if their treating doctor thinks it could be good for their needs,” Dr Holtzman told
“Cannabis should be a first-line treatment because of its low addiction profile and minimal side effect.”
Dr Holtzman said a lack of education was to blame for the views on cannabis within a medical environment, with many doctors reluctant to consider the treatment option.
“There’s a stigma that still sees cannabis as a drug of addition rather than a medication,” she said.
“I had to actively seek information and training. Most doctors are either not interested in doing that or they put it in the ‘too hard basket’ because you can’t just pull out a prescription pad like you can with other prescription drugs.
“Even my judgement as a medical doctor doesn’t make things straight forward, with patients required to meet requirements under the Special Access Scheme before treatment is offered.”
Dr Holtzman wants relaxed laws for medical cannabis to be introduced Australia-wide and is also calling for the medicine to be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to reduce the price of prescriptions.
“It’s troubling that people benefiting from medicinal cannabis had to stop because they can’t afford the cost of treatment,” she said.
“A lot of patients have seen very good results from my personal experience and the drug has a better safety profile and less side effects than they do with opioid medication.
“I’m also not seeing an escalation in dosage like you would with opioids, in fact I have seen people even reduce the dosage as time has passed.”