The Health News – 20 October 2014

Overview

  • It’s estimated thousands of Australians are risking arrest by using cannabis for medical reasons. A national clinical trial has been announced but legalisation could be many years away, and then for expensive pharmaceutical drugs only. Di Martin investigates the science and the politics of medical cannabis.
  • The Queensland Government says there has been a massive reduction in patients waiting for elective surgery, but the Opposition claims the figures are being fudged.
  • A growing number of recreational and professional athletes have been avoiding gluten in a bid to boost their performance, but there has been little scientific evidence of whether the dietary strategy works.


Stories Discussed
News on Health Professional Radio. Today is the 20th October 2014. Read by Rebecca Foster.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/2014-10-19/5816112

National cannabis trials were announced this week, but they may have nothing to do with smoking the drug.

The Australian Medical Association says the raw plant, and any oils or tinctures made from it, should not be trialled or legalised.

‘We are in no form … looking at the crude plant and legalising the plant for medicinal purposes,’ says Dr Tony Bartone, head of the AMA’s Victorian branch.

Dr Bartone is concerned about the different sources of street cannabis and their different chemical compositions.

The AMA is now lobbying governments to only consider a fully tested medicine, one that has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Advocates for legalising cannabis without further trials say that taking the pharmaceutical route is both expensive and unnecessarily time consuming, however.

Dr David Caldicott runs the emergency department at Canberra’s Calvary hospital.

He’s one of the few senior Australian clinicians who say medical cannabis should be legalised now for use by the terminally ill and those with profound conditions which are not responding to conventional medication.

Dr Caldicott says cannabis has hundreds of different active ingredients, posing significant challenges for pharmaceutical companies.

‘This is a plant that can be grown. This can be grown like a tomato at roughly the same price.’

Dr Caldicott specialises in illicit drugs and toxicology and says the side effects of cannabis are benign compared to many of the medicines he now prescribes.

Dr Bartone, however, says the harms are not known from one batch of street cannabis to next.

He’s welcomed the news that national clinical trials will be held, a collaboration led by NSW. The AMA wants these trials to only use cannabis-based pharmaceutical products already on the market overseas, but not available in Australia.

Advocates for legalising cannabis say further trials are unnecessary. They point to a 2012 German study reviewing 100 clinically controlled trials on cannabis.

In the Netherlands, a leading international cannabis researcher says the AMA’s objection about the variability of plants is outdated.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-19/elective-surgery-waiting-list-cut/5825132

The Queensland Government says there has been a massive reduction in patients waiting for elective surgery, but the Opposition claims the figures are being fudged.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg and Premier Campbell Newman visited a Princess Charles Hospital in Brisbane today to trumpet their good news – almost 600 patients had been cleared from the list since the Government took office in early 2012.

Despite the improvement, 531 were still waiting for elective surgery beyond their recommended time period at the end of the September quarter.

Mr Newman hoped that come December, no Queenslander would be waiting longer than expected for elective surgery.

Mr Springborg said he would focus on the wait list for specialist appointments next, with the latest figures showing more than 400,000 people were waiting for pre-surgery appointments.

He said Queensland Health also faced many challenges for those waiting to get an outpatient appointment before being placed on the elective surgery list.

Mr Springborg said more than 4.5 million outpatients had been through the system in the past 12 months, and the list kept growing.

The Australian Medical Association Queensland greeted the new figures cautiously.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-19/scientific-evidence-suggests-gluten-free-diet-does-not-improve-/5824962

A growing number of recreational and professional athletes have been avoiding gluten in a bid to boost their performance, but there has been little scientific evidence of whether the dietary strategy works.

A study by University of Tasmania (UTAS) PhD student Dana Lis found up to 40 per cent of recreational and professional athletes are avoiding gluten.

But the Launceston based researcher said there was little scientific evidence to back up the strategy.

Co-researcher Dr Cecilia Shing said there could be downsides to going gluten-free unless advised by a doctor.

To test the effects of a gluten-free diet, Ms Lis measured the performance and wellbeing of a group of cyclists and triathletes.

The athletes ate a special diet for two weeks but were not told whether it included gluten.

There were early indications that avoiding gluten did not boost performance.

The results of the study will be presented at a conference in the United States next year.

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