Heavy barriers to medicinal cannabis limit pain relief options for endometriosis sufferers

Medicinal Cannabis Oil is a beneficial pain relief for Ms Liebhart.
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For people who suffer from endometriosis, cannabis oil is an effective source of pain relief. But the high cost and the stigma make it out of reach for many. Ashleigh Friedland reports.

A Brisbane woman is paying $1000 to legally take medicinal cannabis oil to treat her endometriosis pain, yet could still be charged for drug use regardless of her prescription.

Endometriosis advocate Aroha Liebhart said medicinal cannabis was heavily stigmatised, even when using it legally as a pain relief.

“A lot of workplaces still have the zero-tolerance policy to drugs,” Liebhart said.

“[And] even though I have a prescription, if I am in a roadside drug test, and test positive for cannabis, I can still be charged regardless of the medical prescription,” she said.

Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus, grows outside of it. The symptoms commonly include pain and menstrual irregularities.

A 2019 report from the NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University and UNSW Sydney showed that one in 10 women with endometriosis used cannabis for pain management, and overall it was ranked the most effective treatment.

“I have been taking it now for about a month, maybe two, and have found it very beneficial,” Liebhart said.

Though it is possible to access medicinal cannabis for pain management, the stigma associated with it, cost and legality remain significant barriers.

“A lot of people are nervous to discuss these things, and stigmatise that if you are using medicinal cannabis, you’re just a stoner or a pot head,” Ms Liebhart said.

“Taking away those barriers may really help other endometriosis sufferers to step up and try it.

“As long as you are open and upfront about your condition it is really easy to get a script.”

Heavy barriers to medicinal cannabis limit pain relief options for endometriosis sufferers
Aroha Liebhart

She said the cost was “astronomical”, even with a prescription.

“First a referral from a specialist is needed, which is “a couple hundred dollars.” Next is a consult fee with a medicinal cannabis company which is “about $250 to meet with a nurse and doctor, to get two scripts”.

For the cannabis oil itself, “they’re really small jars, and cost $250 each”.

“I’ve done my calculations and all up it costs about $1000 out of pocket,” she said.

Alcohol and Drug Foundation knowledge manager – knowledge and advocacy Laura Bajurny said medications could not be listed on the PBS “until they are shown to be a more effective treatment than currently available”.

“We don’t have the research to justify that listing,” she said. “It’s a slow process, and difficult to watch when people are suffering.”

Endometriosis affects one in nine people who menstruate, according to Endometriosis Australia.

The federal budget has made a $58 million commitment proposing improvements to the treatment, management, and diagnosis of endometriosis over the next four years.