Queitly, or not so quietly, depending on your social media algorithms, Australia has been building itself as a medicinal cannabis superpower over the past six years.
The medical use of the otherwise illegal plant has been federally protected since 2016, with Health Minister Gret Hunt previously stating that he wants to make Australia a global, green superpower.
Australia has dozens of medicinal cannabis producers. Vast warehouses full of growing buds exist in hidden locations right across the country, with Toowoomba becoming something of a hotspot for this agricultural alternative.
Initially, the industry was designed as a primarily export-based one, with the domestic market being seen as too underdeveloped and without the demand to support local businesses. That has however shifted as more and more Aussies turn to cannabis-derived medications to treat their ailments.
New research, commissioned by a medicinal cannabis prescription specialist, has found that 73% of Australian adults will seek access to medicinal cannabis if they are eligible and suffer from a chronic illness.
Medicinal cannabis is not technically listed to be prescribed for specific conditions by the medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. It’s made available through something known as the Special Access Scheme – Pathway B (SAS-B), which allows doctors to file an application with the TGA citing reasons as to why their patient should be granted access to medicinal cannabis.
Because the TGA is non-prescriptive with its list of reasons that justify cannabis access, most people who have chronic conditions are likely to be able to get medicinal cannabis. That can be for anything from anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, including something as banal as poor quality sleep, or it could be to treat chronic pain, endometriosis, or any other long-term condition.
This latest survey, commissioned by The Green Doc, found that similar proportions of people across all age groups would use medicinal cannabis if eligible. Countering stereotypes, it’s actually over-55s who are the most likely to seek a medicinal cannabis prescription to treat chronic illnesses.
Half (52%) of over 55s said they would seek it for ongoing chronic pain in a representative survey of 1000 people, compared with 32% of 18-24-year-olds.
Dr Greg Scher, GP and spokesperson for The Green Doc, has said that the survey results suggest the uptake of medicinal cannabis will continue to boom over the next year, owing in part to the pandemic.
“Over the last two years, the health of the Australian population has been consistently impacted. The combination of delayed health checks and delayed elective surgeries may have exacerbated symptoms and illnesses,” he explained.
“At Green Doc, we predict that pain management will become a critical health focus. Joint and back issues, in particular, have likely grown due to non-ergonomic remote working arrangements, along with growth in mental health symptoms such as anxiety, as a result of social isolation, fears of contracting COVID and financial stress.”
The data supports these claims. SAS-B approvals hit a total of 150,000 in 2021, with over 120,000 of those claims being made that year alone. While 2022 has not been quite as positive, there are still around 10,000 new people every month being granted access to the life-changing drugs, something that is only predicted to rise.
$230 million was spent on medicinal cannabis last year, something that is expected to double this year. There are at least 100,000 active users and climbing, businesses are maturing, GPs are becoming more familiar with the idea, and, importantly, the access scheme has been overhauled to streamline patient delivery. This all amounts to a rapidly developing landscape in which more and more patients are likely to consider cannabis as part of their medical routines.
For the minute, of course, the legal landscape around recreational access is still stuck in the past and, without big political changes, that’s not likely to change in the short term. Of course, the upcoming election could shift things slightly, but federal legalisation or even decriminalisation is still years away.
For now, though, medicinal cannabis has never been cheaper or easier to get and Aussies are very much taking notice.