Cannabis And Australian Medical Journals

How have Australian medical journals been treating the topic of medicinal use of cannabis?

In February 2016, legislation was passed in Australia to enable the “safe, legal and reliable” supply of medicinal cannabis products. Stigma remains, accessibility and affordability are still significant issues and there is some opposition to use of cannabis medicinally in the health sector. But attitudes appear to have been quite balanced in local medical journals – up to 2019 anyway.

Dr. Monique Lewis from Griffith University in Queensland set out to investigate attitudes to medicinal cannabis in several Australian journals, focusing on articles from 2000 to the end of 2019. A total of  117 articles were analysed by Dr. Lewis and her team, most of which were news items geared towards doctors.

There were few articles prior to 2010, then a dramatic increase in the publications under analysis from that year. The highest rates were seen between 2017 and 2019. The conditions most frequently mentioned were pain, epilepsy, cancer and cancer pain. Overall, more articles carried positive headlines than negative ones, and the overall tone of articles was positive towards cannabis.

“Most positive framings were framings about legitimacy of cannabis, legalisation, and positive research findings. Framings that more often carried a negative tone were related to poor evidence and safety issues,” says Dr. Lewis.

Interestingly, not a single article suggested that medicinal cannabis should not be legalised and 19 acknowledged the need for legalisation.

“Our research shows the dominant framings about medicinal cannabis in doctors’ professional publications position cannabis as a valid medical substance … Cannabis is also framed for its potential risk, though as a more general concern based on what is not known about it, rather than specific articulated risks.”

The findings of the study have been published in the Journal of Cannabis Research, which can be read in full here.

Since 2019, more had been published in Australian journals about medical cannabis – not all of it positive; and usually the same issue of potential risk is raised rather than any that have been confirmed. The precautionary principle very much applies in Australia, which can be a double-edged sword at times.

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