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Health professionals including nurses broadly support the clinical use of medicinal cannabis but believe they lack legislative knowledge regarding access to the drug and remain concerned about misuse, adverse interactions and patient harm, an analysis of studies by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers has found.

The research paper. Health professional beliefs, knowledge, and concerns surrounding medicinal cannabis – A systematic review, gauged the attitudes of health professionals about the drug by examining 26 studies carried out in Australia, the US, Canada, Ireland and internationally that looked at the beliefs, knowledge and concerns of nurses, pharmacists, GPs and allied health professionals.

The study found health professionals support the use of medicinal cannabis but feel they lack expertise across pharmacology and dosing as well as legislation regarding access, distribution and supply.

The greatest concerns reported surrounded patient harm, adverse drug interactions and whether cannabis would be obtained “medicinally” under false pretences for recreational use.

Practitioners also raised qualms about people growing cannabis for medical use and driving under the influence, and the negative mental health outcomes associated with the use of the drug.

QUT pharmacy PhD researcher Kyle Gardiner, who led the research, said it was important to understand the views of the health sector regarding the drug as it shifts rapidly from a criminalised product to potentially being prescribed medicinally.

“In almost all international jurisdictions the involvement of at least one health professional is required for patients to acquire medicinal cannabis,” Mr Gardiner said.

“So, clinicians are in the crosshairs and we need to understand their behaviour and engagement.

“It is important to know their attitudes and concerns about the delivery and use of medicinal cannabis, what knowledge they have, and where they are getting their information.”

Mr Gardiner said the study forms part of efforts to build a larger picture and more robust understanding of the behaviour of health professionals in this space.

“This is an important step in recognising and better informing strategies that change the way healthcare is delivered so that patients are not disadvantaged.”

In Australia, several forms of medicinal cannabis are available, to be prescribed under certain conditions and used in clinical trials.

Mr Gardiner said the study showed knowledge regarding medicinal cannabis across nursing, medicine, pharmacy and other health professions was “poor”, with many practitioners highlighting the need for further education and easier access to information.

In cases where health professionals felt evidence-based resources were not readily accessible they turned to online learning, news and the media, and patient experiences, Mr Gardiner said.

Mr Gardiner noted that the views of health professionals were more supportive of medicinal cannabis in more recently published studies and that greater support emerged among professionals working in speciality medical fields than general or community practice.

Mr Gardiner stressed that while health professionals broadly supported medicinal cannabis it did not necessarily mean they were comfortable delivering it themselves.

“There is a fundamental difference between being supportive of medicinal cannabis and being directly responsible for its delivery. More research is needed in this area.”

Read the full research paper –