Olivia Newton-John thinks Australia is “on its way” to making medicinal cannabis available to those who need it thanks to a $3 million research pledge from the federal government.
The beloved Australian actor and singer is a strong advocate for medicinal cannabis in cancer treatment, which she credits to helping her wean off morphine during her third bout of breast cancer.
“I’m right here, right now, alive and healthy,” she told a crowd of supporters at the annual Wellness Walk and Research Run in Melbourne on Sunday.
“Last year, I was flat on my back in the centre [the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre] and this year, through treatment and medicinal cannabis, I am feeling fantastic.
“I hope to be able to soon offer that to everyone — that’s my dream.”
That dream is one stop closer to reality after the federal government pledged three million dollars for medicinal cannabis research.
“It’s a dream come true. We’re on our way,” Newton-John said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt joined Newton-John onstage, announcing the money will go towards examining how cannabis can be used to help treat cancer pain, symptoms and other side effects.
He said the government is committed to ensure a “safe, quality supply” of medicinal cannabis to Australian patients, “but only when it is prescribed by a medical professional”.
Medicinal cannabis is legal in Australia, however not all doctors will prescribe it, and many products are not approved.
According to the government, more than 11,000 Australians have been approved to use the drug medicinally — mostly this year.
“Given the increase in prescribed medicinal cannabis, the Government has supported the nation’s medicinal cannabis industry, and cut red tape to help meet demand,” Hunt said.
Newton-John said while the funding is a great start, the number of Australians with access to the drug is “frustrating”.
She wants Australia to catch up to the United States where “they’ve discovered it hasn’t caused all the problems that people are afraid of”.
“People need to let of that old hippie thing [about the drug],” she said.
“It has helped me incredibly, with pain, with sleep, with anxiety — particularly when I had to wean myself off morphine.”
“And I used cannabis.”
Hunt said there is a lack of well-designed clinical studies on medicinal cannabis and that more are needed to support doctors in their decisions.
Australians who are using cannabis medicinally are doing so largely to treat mental health conditions, chronic pain and neurological conditions.
But the efficacy of medical cannabis for a number of health conditions remains unclear, according to research from the Sydney Medical School last year.
At the time, lead author Professor Nicholas Lintzeris said clinical trial-based evidence is still emerging for many conditions.