GPs can tackle cannabis use
GPs help 19,000 Australians with cannabis-
related problems each year, new research has
Image: iStockphoto

New figures released on 28 September 2008 show that each year, 19,000 general practice consultations across Australia involve the management of cannabis-related problems.

Cannabis-related consultations are more likely to be sought by males, people between the ages of 15 and 44 years, owners of Health Care Cards, and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people than other consultation types. In addition, cannabis-related consultations are more likely to involve simultaneous management of anxiety or psychosis, than consultations involving other drug use such as amphetamines.

These findings, from the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program, are discussed in a recent National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) Bulletin, entitled, ‘The management of cannabis use in Australian general practice’.

NCPIC is based at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The BEACH program, which is a continuous study of general practice activity across Australia, involves an ever changing, random sample of approximately 1,000 GPs per year, who each provide details of 100 consecutive consultations.

The data showed that despite there being around 300,000 Australians using cannabis daily, the number of people requesting assistance from their GPs for cannabis related problems is comparatively small. This is in contrast to the increasing numbers presenting to specialist alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment services.

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre is keen to assist cannabis users to seek assistance at an earlier stage before they need to attend specialist services. The Director of NCPIC, Professor Jan Copeland emphasises that “GPs are extremely well-placed in relation to their frequent, broad-range contact with most Australians. It is vital that we equip GPs with the knowledge and awareness of how to identify and treat people with cannabis-related problems who might otherwise fail to seek or attain effective treatment.”

“GPs see approximately 85 per cent of Australians at least once a year, and are thus in a prime position to identify and treat people with cannabis-related health problems,” said Professor Copeland. “ Because most patients do not explicitly present to their doctors with cannabis-related problems, and may rather complain of effects such as chronic respiratory tract complaints or mental health problems such as, depression and anxiety, it is essential that GPs are aware of screening, assessment, and brief interventions for cannabis-related health issues. “

Among the most beneficial, time-efficient and cost-effective ways GPs can assist and treat their patients, are as follows:

  • assess, provide feedback and develop motivation for change
  • referral to specialist psychiatric and/or drug treatment services
  • direction to resources such as the Cannabis Information and Helpline.

“As with most drugs, most people do not experience major problems with occasional cannabis use,” said Professor Copeland. “But for those that use regularly or heavily, problems can be major and have a significant negative impact on their lives.”

“It is imperative that we support GPs, usually the first ‘port of call’ for people who are experiencing a range of physical or psychological problems, with good quality information on how to assist their patients with cannabis-related problems.” 

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.