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Palliative Care

Treatment Options, Including Medicinal Cannabis

What is palliative care?

Palliative Care is a team approach to care that helps people living with advanced and life-limiting illness to live as well as they can for as long as they can. Palliative care can be in place for years if needed.

It is not the same as end-of-life care, which is an important part of palliative care, but not the only part. The goal of palliative care is to help you have a good quality of life, with support in all the areas you need to make this possible. 

Who receives palliative care?

Studies tell us that when palliative care is introduced earlier in a patient’s disease journey their quality of life often improves significantly. It is beneficial and appropriate for patients with any illness that can’t be cured, which can include:

There will be many members of the palliative care team, to ensure all of your physical, social and spiritual needs are cared for during the changing phases and stages of your illness. 

Your GP is a key member of your care team, and a central point of contact to oversee the management of your physical symptoms over time, and to track your medications and any adverse side effects. 

Things that may help

Some people can experience severe pain, nausea, shortness-of-breath, constipation, anxiety and fatigue, while others may have only one or two minor symptoms. There are effective treatments for all symptoms and it’s important to remember that you don’t need to bear pain or discomfort in silence. 

Distressing symptoms may escalate and taking notes and talking with your care team will help them to manage your symptoms, and to work out which medications are helping and whether any are creating unwanted side effects. There are also things you can do to care for yourself.

What can you expect?

Can medicinal cannabis help?

Medicinal cannabis can be very helpful for patients who continue to experience distressing symptoms of advanced disease including pain, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, anxiety and agitation despite the use of standard treatments. 

Many patients prescribed medicinal cannabis for troubling and persistent symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or pain have been able to reduce the number of prescriptions they are taking while experiencing better symptom control, as cannabis works on multiple symptoms with minimal side effects.  

You can access treatment with a prescription from your doctor, through the Special Access Scheme (SAS), through Authority Prescription, or by taking part in a clinical trial. Your doctor will start you on a low dose delivered through oil, capsule or spray, which may be enough to relieve your symptoms. Prescribed cannabis means you and your doctor can control your dose and ensure you are getting optimal benefit from your therapy.

If you are interested to learn more, talk to your GP.

References

1. Australian Government Department of Health, Therapeutic Goods Administration. Guidance for the use of Medicinal cannabis in the treatment of palliative care patients in Australia. Version 1, December 2017. Available at: 2017 https://www.tga.gov.au/sites/default/files/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-treatment-palliative-care-patients-australia.pdf

2. Rowland K, Schumann SA. Palliative care: earlier is better. J Fam Pract 2010 Dec; 59(12): 695-698.

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for (a) professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment; (b) professional legal advice or guidance on legal or regulatory issues; or (c) information from manufacturers or suppliers in relation to products or product information. Always seek the advice of your physician, qualified health provider, qualified lawyer, or authorised manufacturer or supplier in respect of such matters. This information is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the information undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of the content.

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