Medicinal cannabis is rapidly gaining traction in Australia with up to 61,000 prescriptions approved since 1992. According to records from the Therapeutic Goods Administration through the Special Access Scheme, most of the approvals have taken place in the past few years.
Medical cannabis prescription on the increase
Since August 2019, medicinal cannabis approvals have doubled from 2878 to 5739. Between June and July 2020 alone, the figures rose by 20 percent. In the past four years, there have been some significant changes, which improved access to the products such as the launching of medicinal cannabis clinics, improved information for prescribers, and reduced prices of medicinal cannabis.
According to Professor Iain McGregor from the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the University of Sydney, medicinal cannabis currently costs about 25 percent of what it did in 2017. The Australian market currently has a variety of products, including about 150 different medicinal flower and oil products.
Delivered by 37 companies, the merchants are competing for a small number of patients, which has led to the price drop. McGregor is equally optimistic that there’s “increasingly good evidence” that cannabis is effective.
It helps people get off more sinister drugs, particularly prescription opioids and Lyrica-type drugs as well, which can be very problematic, McGregor said.
Recently, the TGA released an interim decision to downgrade certain medicinal cannabis products from Schedule 4 to Schedule 3. This move will allow approved low-dose products to be sold over the counter at the pharmacy.
Growing medicinal cannabis market in Australia
The medical cannabis market in Australia is rapidly growing, as evidenced by the establishing a major CBD facility in northern NSW. Named The Australian Natural Therapeutic Group, this facility is expected to start producing medicinal cannabis oil on a commercial scale. Once it becomes operational, it will be the first licensed CBD manufacturing facility in the state.
According to the company’s chief executive Matthew Cantelo, there’s “quite a large number of prescriptions being written under the Special Access Scheme, as well as a rise in the number of authorized prescribers.”
“[That] tells us that doctors are having more confidence in the safety and efficacy of the products. Also, the research is catching up,” Cantelo said.
Most approvals for medicinal cannabis were for chronic pain, as revealed by a TGA representative. All the same, medicinal cannabis is equally helpful in alleviating cancer pain. It’s also used to manage seizures or epilepsy, treat psychological conditions like anxiety, anorexia, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, and some movement disorders.