Infographic: The current state of medical cannabis in Australia
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While there is a stigma associated with recreational cannabis in Australia, medical cannabis has been legalised since 2016. In this infographic, we explore the statistics surrounding the pattern and behaviours of medical cannabis patients in Australia.
1928 - Recreational Cannabis Prohibition
The State of Victoria enacted legislation prohibiting the use of cannabis, with other states following shortly after.
1977 - Senate committee recommends decriminalisation
An Australian senate committee recommended the removal of criminal penalties for personal possession and use of cannabis.
1987 - South Australia decriminalises minor cannabis offences
South Australia introduces law for personal use offenders to receive a fine instead of jail time.
Several other states follow suit in later years.
2016 - Medical cannabis legalised
Medicinal cannabis legalised at the federal level on November 1st, 2016
2020 - ACT removes penalties for minor cannabis offences
Australian Capital Territory introduces law allowing possession and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
Active medical cannabis patients
Based on FreshLeaf Analytic’s Q1 2020 report, the total number of active medical cannabis patients (patients who have seen a doctor or taken a prescribed medicine in a given month) saw a tremendous increase in numbers. The total active medical patients in December 2019 was 10,595, compared to only 1,680 at the beginning of the year.
The number Special Access Scheme (category B) through the Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia (TGA) also saw an increase from 2019. From January to May 2020, approvals averaged between three and four thousand per month.
Estimates based on the same report forecasts the active medical cannabis patients to roughly 25,000 - 30,000 by year-end.
Medical cannabis products in Australia
The number of cannabis products available for doctors to prescribe reached 100 in the first quarter of 2020, growing from a total of 54 at the start of 2019.
Q3 2017: 11
Q3 2018: 35
Q1 2019: 54
Q2 2019: 76
Q1 2020: 100
Cannabis product categories also saw 2 new additions in 2020 - “creams” and “lozenges”. This brings it up to a total of 8 product categories available for doctors to prescribe for potential patients. The most common product type still belonging to oils (such as CBD oil), with flowers and capsules in second and third respectively.
Main conditions treated with medical cannabis
Between 2018 and 2019, a survey was conducted to examine the patterns for medical cannabis use in Australian patients. The survey was conducted by the University of Sydney in conjunction with the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, gathering results of 1388 respondents.
Out of the respondents, the top 5 conditions treated using medical cannabis include:
Mental health: 32.8%
Cancer related symptoms - 3.8
The consumption methods for the same group of respondents are as follows:
Water pipe / Bong: 19.7
Liquid / Oil: 15.7%
Tablet / Capsule; 3.2%
Fresh juice: 0.1%
How patients accessed medical cannabis
Perhaps the most surprising statistic from the 2018 - 2019 period is that only 2.4% of respondents indicated they had sourced cannabis products legally from a doctor. Other patients resorted to growing their own or sourcing it from recreational dealers or illicit medical suppliers. When asked about the motivation for sourcing it illegally, respondents largely blamed disinterest or stigma associated with cannabis from medical practitioners.
Recreational dealers: 46.2%
Friends or family: 25.3%
Illicit or online medical suppliers: 12.3%
Grew their own cannabis: 11.6%
“Other” sources: 4.7%
The future of cannabis in Australia
With ACT being the first jurisdiction to take a step in the right direction, we can only hope other states and territories will follow. The good news is a number of cannabis related inquiries submissions have been requested by the Australian government in recent years. This includes one currently open for Victorians until the August 31st 2020 - ”Inquiry into the Use of Cannabis in Victoria”.
We have no doubt with more community knowledge and discussions, Australia will slowly open up more accessible pathways to cannabis products.
Lintzeris, N., Mills, L., Suraev, A. et al. Medical cannabis use in the Australian community following introduction of legal access: the 2018–2019 Online Cross-Sectional Cannabis as Medicine Survey (CAMS-18). Harm Reduct J 17, 37 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12954-020-00377-0