Updated: Jul 5
A new study by the University of Sydney's Lambert Initiative shows that there has been a significant increase in the use of legal prescription medicinal cannabis in Australia. The Cannabis as Medicine Survey (CAMS20) was conducted between September 2020 and January 2021 and included 1,600 medical cannabis users. The results showed that 37 per cent of respondents had received a legal prescription for medicinal cannabis, a stark contrast to the 2.5 per cent reported in 2018.
The survey found that those who only used prescription cannabis tended to be older, female, and less likely to be employed. Respondents also reported that using prescribed medicinal cannabis had benefits over illicit cannabis, particularly in terms of safer use. Those using illegal cannabis were more likely to smoke their cannabis, whereas those using prescribed products were more likely to use oral or vaporised cannabis. This highlights the health benefits of using specified products, particularly smoking-related health concerns.
The study also revealed that respondents reported positive outcomes of medicinal cannabis use, with 95% reporting improved health. Chronic pain was the main reason for using prescribed medicinal cannabis, consistent with other prescription data from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
However, despite the increase in patients receiving prescribed products, only 24 per cent of prescribed patients agreed that the current model for accessing medicinal cannabis was straightforward. One of the main barriers identified by most respondents was the cost of accessing medicinal cannabis, with an average price of $79 per week, highlighting the need to address the cost of treatment for patients.
Another barrier was an inability to find medical practitioners willing to prescribe medicinal cannabis. This is consistent with findings from a recent 2020 Senate Inquiry into the barriers to patient access to medicinal cannabis in Australia. Therefore, further work is required to enhance health provider education regarding medicinal cannabis.
Professor Iain McGregor, Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, emphasises the advantages of using prescribed medical cannabis over illicit cannabis. These include safer administration routes, greater certainty of access, and better communication between patients and doctors. Patients can also be informed of the exact THC/CBD composition, an ongoing problem with illicit products.
Overall, the study highlights the need for increased education and access to medicinal cannabis for patients. With the transition from illicit to legal use of medicinal cannabis, it is vital to address the barriers and costs associated with obtaining legal medicinal cannabis products. As more research is conducted, it is hoped that medicinal cannabis will continue to provide positive outcomes for those who need it.
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