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TGA issues guidance for advertising medicinal cannabis

Medicinal Cannabis advertising guidance

On Friday, the TGA published guidance relating to the advertising of Medicinal Cannabis (link) .

It has been a long time coming, but while much of the guidance simply reiterates existing legislation pertaining to the marketing of unapproved drugs (i.e. you can’t), the specificity throws a spotlight on how the boundaries have been pushed in the absence of direct oversight. The two points likely to have the greatest impact are:

Cannabis clinics

When it comes to company business or trading names that reference cannabis in their name, the TGA stated:

"If your business name includes a reference to medicinal cannabis, it is likely that a consumer viewing the promotion of the service would reasonably consider that the service includes the use of medicinal cannabis."

... and thus would be considered advertising - which is prohibited. But the TGA doesn't stop there. Use of imagery, links to articles promoting the benefits of cannabis, promoting cannabis prescribing (or compounding if you are a pharmacy) among services on offer are also prohibited. For existing businesses, this is going to be problematic, but then many will have already generated sufficient awareness that they'll continue to benefit from word of mouth - it's the new or planned businesses that are going to be most affected.

Direct to consumer education

Give the proliferation of direct to consumer information and activities, the constraints outlined by the TGA are likely to put a dent in the marketing plans of some companies. That said, the TGA does make allowance for information provided by patient support groups - having more funding directed to consumer organisations to increase the breadth and reach of their activities would not be a bad result.

Overall, the guidance is consistent with one of basic tenets of healthcare marketing in that - “The decision to use (any prescription product) is a decision that should be made in conjunction with a treating health professional.”

For medicinal cannabis, this presents a hurdle. While there has been a significant uptick in prescribing in recent months, the vast majority of prescribers do not have experience with medicinal cannabis, which means patients are still hitting brick walls when seeking access. And for this reason, clinics have been a beacon for people wanting to access legal treatment. Pulling the curtains down now so patients do not know who they can talk to risks undoing some of the gains that have been achieved in recent years. But then, maybe that’s the point. If medicinal cannabis is going to be a viable treatment option accessible by all eligible Australians, then more needs to be done.

So the take home message is that there needs to be a greater focus on medical practitioners - providing education and supporting clinical experience more broadly. For companies that are medically focussed, the guidance won’t have much of an affect - for everyone else, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate their approach.

Of course the question now is, who is going to enforce the rules?

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