Background: The New South Wales State Government recently proposed a trial of the medical use of cannabis. Australians who currently use cannabis medicinally do so illegally and without assurances of quality control. Given the dearth of local information on this issue, this study explored the experiences of medical cannabis users.
Methods: Australian adults who had used cannabis for medical purposes were recruited using media stories. A total of 147 respondents were screened by phone and anonymous questionnaires were mailed, to be returned by postage paid envelope.
Results: Data were available for 128 participants. Long term and regular medical cannabis use was frequently reported for multiple medical conditions including chronic pain (57%), depression (56%), arthritis (35%), persistent nausea (27%) and weight loss (26%). Cannabis was perceived to provide "great relief" overall (86%), and substantial relief of specific symptoms such as pain, nausea and insomnia. It was also typically perceived as superior to other medications in terms of undesirable effects, and the extent of relief provided. However, nearly one half (41%) experienced conditions or symptoms that were not helped by its use. The most prevalent concerns related to its illegality. Participants reported strong support for their use from clinicians and family. There was almost universal interest (89%) in participating in a clinical trial of medical cannabis, and strong support (79%) for investigating alternative delivery methods.
Conclusion: Australian medical cannabis users are risking legal ramifications, but consistent with users elsewhere, claim moderate to substantial benefits from its use in the management of their medical condition. In addition to strong public support, medical cannabis users show strong interest in clinical cannabis research, including the investigation of alternative delivery methods.