Wagga's first dedicated medicinal cannabis clinic has opened its doors in the hopes of filling a local healthcare gap and providing alternative treatments to chronic pain and anxiety.
Hammond Health on Fitzmaurice Street has recently launched a medicinal cannabis clinic spearheaded by Dr Tricia Overvliet. She said even though it's early days there has been a "massive response" with two or more inquiries every single day.
With a background in anaesthetics, which led to a career in general practice, Dr Overvliet's motivation for launching the clinic and becoming a prescriber of medicinal cannabis was the treatment of pain.
"There are many drugs that people just cannot tolerate; they have the side effects, they can't function with them," she said.
"[Medicinal cannabis] can work really well and a lot of people feel it's miraculous even."
Wagga veteran Jason Frost sought out medicinal cannabis to help with chronic pain and PTSD and said it has "fundamentally" changed his life for the better.
"I now have a quality of life, I didn't have one before," he said.
Mr Frost hopes the new clinic will make the medication more accessible for people in the Riverina.
Dr Overvliet said that the process of prescribing medicinal cannabis to patients is not a short or easy one.
Most medicinal cannabis products are not approved by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA), however doctors like Dr Overvliet can apply to prescribe it to patients on a case-by-case basis.
This is done after consulting with patients and determining why they wish to use medicinal cannabis. Most patients seek it out for chronic non-cancer pain and generalised anxiety and need to prove that medicinal cannabis has not been their first line of treatment, with other options explored first.
"But it has a multitude of applications," Dr Overvliet said, with her patients taking it for chemo-related nausea, PTSD and inflammatory bowel, to name a few.
Medicinal cannabis contains two main components: CBD and THC, the latter component often producing a 'high' or sense of euphoria.
Dr Overvliet primarily prescribes medication containing pure CBD, or formulations where this is dominant.
"You don't go hammer and tong on a high dose of CBD to start with ... you need to start [with a] low dose and see how people react to it," she said, seeing patients on a regular basis once treatment begins.
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Mr Frost said local veterans have had to travel outside Wagga to seek medicinal cannabis treatment for a long time, so having a clinic locally should "absolutely" help improve access.
He also hopes the presence of a clinic in Wagga will educate people on the benefits of CBD and reduce any misconceptions surrounding it.
"The stigma goes along with the way we've looked at it as a recreational drug for so long," Mr Frost said.
Wagga man Darren McLean also has first-hand experience using medicinal cannabis and believes a local clinic will have a "massive benefit" in terms of access, especially for a regional area with "so many small towns around us".
"People talk about [medicinal cannabis users and] think they're just drug users," he said.
"They're only doing it for the benefit of their own health [and] at the end of the day it's like any medication, regardless of what it is."
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