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Australia sees “dramatic” increase in medical cannabis prescriptions

While the number of legal prescriptions has grown significantly, most patients continue to self-medicate.



Australia sees "dramatic" increase in medical cannabis prescriptions
Data has been published on the largest national survey on medical cannabis in Australia.

The number of people beginning to access prescribed cannabis is growing “dramatically” in Australia, but most continue to self-medicate.

Researchers from the Lambert Initiative at the University of Sydney have published data from the largest national survey on medical cannabis in Australia.

The survey of 1,600 people who consume cannabis medicinally, was carried out between September 2020 and January 2021, finding that the majority of respondents (95 per cent) reported positive outcomes of their consumption.

Compared to a previous survey, researchers found a significant increase in the number of respondents with a medical cannabis prescription.

While only 2.5 per cent reported prescription use in 2018, 37 per cent said they now used legal medical cannabis.

According to the paper, the number of regulatory applications by doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis products to their patients increased from 231 in 2017, to 122,490 in 2021. 

Despite this significant increase, the majority of participants (62 per cent) reported sourcing medical cannabis illicitly in the last 12 months. 

Those who only used prescription cannabis tended to be older and female.

Only 24 per cent of prescribed patients said the existing model was easy to navigate. Amongst illicit medical cannabis users, only three per cent agreed that the process was straightforward.

People using prescribed medical cannabis mostly did so to manage chronic pain while most illicit users were more likely to be treating mental health or sleep issues.

Almost half (47 per cent) of illicit cannabis users said they were not pursuing a legal prescription due to high costs – which are currently at an average of A$79.36 per week – did not know any prescribing doctors.

A quarter of respondents said their doctor was unwilling to prescribe.

The researchers said this demonstrates that more work is required to improve education among healthcare professionals.

A smaller proportion (19 per cent) had concerns over confidentiality and 16 per cent preferred illicit products to what was medically available.

Lead researcher, Professor Nicholas Lintzeris, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, commented: “The data suggests we have seen a transition from illicit to legal use of medical cannabis.

“A number of benefits were identified in moving to prescribed products, particularly where consumers reported safer ways of using medical cannabis. People using illicit cannabis were more likely to smoke their cannabis, compared to people using prescribed products who were more likely to use oral products or vaporised cannabis, highlighting a health benefit of using prescribed products.”

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