Living the High Life — Medicinal Cannabis Use Continues to Grow in Australia

An image showing a cannabis (marijuana) plant to illustrate growing medical weed use in Australia.

Illegal weed still reigns supreme among Aussies, but a new study reveals that the legal use of medicinal cannabis continues to climb Down Under.

The University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative has released the findings of its third Cannabis as Medicine Survey, which shows a significant increase in the number of people accessing legal prescription cannabis products.

“Based on the data, it seems like we’re seeing a shift from the shady illegal market to a more legit, regulated space for medical cannabis,” says Professor Nicholas Lintzeris, who led the study.

According to the survey, 37% of the 1,600 respondents had obtained legal prescriptions for medical cannabis. This is a massive increase from the 2.5% who reported using prescription cannabis in 2018, with prescriptions surging during the pandemic.

Interestingly, the people who used only prescription cannabis tended to be older, female, and less likely to be employed. They were also less likely to have used cannabis previously, suggesting a legal route gives people options for treatment they otherwise wouldn’t seek.

“The results suggest that prescribed cannabis products offer a safer alternative to the unregulated stuff you might find on the street,” Lintzeris adds.

“Those who use prescription cannabis are less likely to smoke it and more likely to use oral products or vaporized cannabis.”

Overall, the study found that 95% of respondents who used medical cannabis experienced an improvement in their health. Chronic pain was the main reason given for using prescribed medicinal cannabis, consistent with data from the Therapeutics Goods Administration.

An image showing the results of the medicinal cannbis survey from the Lambert Institute in Australia.
Image: The Lambert Institute

But getting hold of legal cannabis can be a challenge, with only 24% of those who had been prescribed medicinal cannabis saying that accessing it was easy. Cost is another barrier, with the average cost of treatment sitting at $79 per week. Respondents who used illegal cannabis cited difficulty in finding a doctor who was willing to prescribe medical cannabis as their main obstacle to obtaining legal products.

“There’s a clear advantage to using regulated medical cannabis over the illegal stuff,” says Professor Iain McGregor, Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics.

“Regulated products provide safer routes of administration, greater access, and better communication between doctors and patients. Patients can also be informed of the exact THC/CBD composition, which is often not the case with illegal products,” he continued.

The survey is part of the largest national survey of medicinal cannabis users conducted every two years, called the CAMS series.

The Discipline of Addiction Medicine partnered with the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the University of Sydney to conduct the study.

Related: Here’s All the Nice Things We Could Afford If We Legalised and Regulated Cannabis

Related: NSW Ministers Shout “Pass the Bong” as They Vote Down Laws to Protect Cannabis Patients

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