Patients in Australia are looking to cannabis as a natural alternative to conventional medicines, and the trending growth shows no sign of slowing.
More than 70,000 patients were registered and approved for medicinal cannabis in 2021, and that number is projected to surpass 100,000 by 2022 (FreshLeaf).
Medical Cannabis Access in 2022
Medical cannabis in Australia is currently available by prescription only, with the exception of low dose CBD oils which will be soon available over the counter in pharmacy.
Any doctor can prescribe medical cannabis in Australia. However this isn’t as easy as it sounds with only 5% of Australian doctors currently prescribing cannabis. Why is this? There are a few reasons including the long-standing stigma surrounding marijuana, limited experience prescribing cannabis medicines and the paperwork that is required.
To prescribe medical cannabis, a doctor needs to apply for approval for each patient through the TGA Special Access Scheme (SAS). Unless they are an Authorised Prescriber who can supply cannabis medication without this approval.
What Are Australians Using Medical Cannabis For?
Pain, mental health and sleep were the top three reasons why Australians sought medical cannabis between 2018 and 2019, according to the Online Cross-Sectional Cannabis as Medicine Survey (CAMS-18).
In this survey, Australians who used legal medical cannabis reported treating a wide array of conditions, including:
Chronic back pain
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Were participants happy with the results? According to CAMS-18. “The overwhelming majority of respondents reported symptom improvement following medical cannabis use.” Specifically for pain, anxiety, and sleep problems, many people reported a high level of efficacy with medical cannabis. Participants reported only mild and tolerable side effects such as dry mouth.
How Aussies Are Consuming Medical Cannabis
Australians seem to prefer inhaling their medical cannabis but also turn to alternative methods. Vaporisers were a top choice, followed by oil or tablet form.
Although oils and flower dominate patient preferences, other products such as sprays, capsules, concentrates, and topicals are on the rise as producers develop new product types.
Current types of medical cannabis products in Australia include:
Lozenges and wafers
Bubble hash (in a crystal, or kief format)
No matter the formulation, TGA schedules each product into a five-category scheme ranging from low THC:CBD ratio to a high THC ratio. This helps doctors prescribe patients a highly personalised treatment plan based on THC content, but doesn’t restrict the patient to a specific brand or product type.
What Does Medical Cannabis Cost?
The cost of medical cannabis from one patient to the next can vary quite a bit, especially when you consider the number of conditions it’s prescribed for and the growing number of available products.
With this caveat out of the way, patients can expect to pay roughly $14 per gram for cannabis flower or $0.05 per mg for isolated cannabinoids.
For the average patient, a survey by the University of Sydney reported costs of about $61 per week or about $278 per month based on another study by FreshLeaf Analytics.You can expect some differences depending on the brand and specific formulation.
Over the last few years, the cost of medical cannabis has come down considerably. That’s excellent news for patients, as lower prices make this alternative medicine that much more accessible.
Australian Medical Cannabis Access: A Rapidly Evolving Landscape
If there’s one takeaway from the state of medical cannabis in 2022, it is that it’s a rapidly evolving market.
Accessing medical cannabis isn’t always straightforward however telehealth services are streamlining the process for both patients and doctors.
The stigma surrounding cannabis is also evolving. Many Australians still stigmatise cannabis use (even for medical applications). The good news, there are practitioners who are leading the way and offer cannabis consultations without judgement.
There are a number of risks associated with the use of medical cannabis and your doctor will explain these to you before issuing a prescription. Medical cannabis affects everyone differently and may not help with your chronic condition.