Doctors who have been reluctant to prescribe medicinal cannabis are getting the inside dope on the controversial drug from the federal government.
Medicinal cannabis information booklets have just been published by the Turnbull government, aiming to make it easier for medical professionals to prescribe the products.
While cannabis can now be prescribed legally for some medical conditions, most doctors have little knowledge of how it can be used, according to legalisation advocates.
While experts estimate up to 100,000 Australians are using cannabis to treat their medical conditions, only about 150 are doing so legally.
The Turnbull government released five condition-specific booklets based on the most up-to-date evidence for doctors when considering the treatment.
These are palliative care, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, chronic non-cancer pain and epilepsy.
"These are the conditions which had the largest number of studies," Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
"The documents provide clinical information on the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis and guidance for its use in treating symptoms for a number of conditions."
There is also a booklet that gives an overview on prescribing medicinal cannabis and one that contains information for patients.
Mr Hunt said the evidence for the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis was inconsistent, despite the growing number of Australians showing interest in using it.
Each booklet outlines the evidence for each condition, with some giving an alphabet score for each cannabis product's success to treating pain, tremors or improving quality of life.
They contain information on potential side effects, which appear to be less severe than those for opioid medications and suggest a "start low, go slow" approach to dosage.
The booklets warn that medicinal cannabis could expose patients to lifelong use of the drug, but also state there is no strong data on this.
They state the drug should be used as a last resort, when all other treatments had failed and are not appropriate for patients with conditions such as mood or psychotic disorders.
Advocates have complained it is a nightmare for medical professionals and patients to gain access to the drug.
Professor Iain McGregor, from the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, has written about Australia's system, which he says seems designed to almost guarantee its failure.
"An initial problem facing Australian patients seeking medicinal cannabis is that their GPs often know little about it, and unlike Canada, where GPs can write you a script, a sympathetic Australian GP must enlist the support of a specialist to apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for cannabis products," Professor McGregor noted.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Bastian Seidel??? said this was because a national regulatory framework was desperately needed.
Dr Seidel said the booklets were comprehensive. He said side effects were not known for medicinal cannabis, but this was the same for many treatments currently in use, which was reasonable given the lack of evidence.
"We must be open-minded," Dr Seidel said.
"Medicinal cannabis has never been the first choice for medical conditions. We need appreciate the treatment with medicinal cannabis is emerging."