Research shows medicinal cannabis ‘boom’ in Australia


More than 248,000 prescriptions have been approved in the past five years, 85% of which have been dispensed since January 2020.

The vast majority of medical cannabis prescriptions were issued through the Special Access Regime – Category B.

The first in-depth study of Australia’s medicinal cannabis program, which began in 2016, shows that it is not only being prescribed more often, but also for increasingly varied conditions.

According to data taken from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), prescriptions have been issued for more than 140 different conditions, including pain, anxiety and sleep disturbances – despite limited evidence regarding the drug’s effectiveness in treating these ailments.

For Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos, the first general practitioner authorized to prescribe medical cannabis and co-author of the research, the main reasons for the prescriptions are not surprising.

“Pain, anxiety and sleep issues are often linked – chronic pain can also cause mental health and sleep issues,” she said.

However, Associate Professor Kotsirilos said newsGP Not enough is known about why Australia has seen such dramatic growth in the number of medical cannabis prescriptions dispensed to patients.

“We need to do more research on why there has been a boom in doctor prescribing,” she said.

“Is it more of interest among prescribers, is it a request from patients or something else?

The biggest change has been seen in Queensland, where the normalized growth rate of Special Access Regime – Category B (SAS-B) approvals “far exceeds all other states and territories”, according to the research.

Similarly, SAS-B approvals increased significantly for floral products in 2020-2021, as did approvals for younger age groups (18-31), male patients, and non-CBD-dominant products. (cannabidiol).

Many prescriptions among this cohort were issued for anxiety, although current evidence for the use of medical cannabis is limited to only a few studies of CBD-dominant products, rather than products containing psychoactive THC ( tetrahydrocannabinol).

“Historically, the effects of THC have been described as anxiogenic, although this may depend on dose size and other factors,” said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Cairns.


Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos, the first general practitioner licensed to prescribe medicinal cannabis in Australia and co-author of the research.

Besides major trends, the size of the dataset also allowed researchers to find patterns of prescribing in small but important populations that might otherwise have been overlooked.

“Besides the link between anxiety and flower products, we found other interesting associations, for example topical CBD prescriptions for seizures,” Dr. Cairns said.

“This use has not been widely explored.”

However, a limitation of the study is that the data does not include information on patient outcomes.

“Unfortunately, we just don’t know if these treatments were effective for these patients, but these data highlight where we can focus our attention next – to do targeted studies and/or clinical trials,” said Dr. Cairns.

“There is a clear and unmet need for effective drug treatments for a variety of conditions that can be helped by medical cannabis.

“For example, it could be useful to conduct high-quality clinical trials on the use of floral products for anxiety, and this is certainly something that the Lambert Initiative [for Cannabinoid Therapeutics] and its associates may seek to do in the future.

Such research could also shed light on the use of medicinal cannabis for pain relief, which accounted for 61% of all SAS-B approvals recorded during the study period despite the Australian College of Medicine’s suggestion. pain not to prescribe medicinal cannabis for this purpose.

Although Associate Professor Kotsirilos prescribes medical cannabis for pain, she says it should only be done as a last resort, after more evidence-based behavioral and drug therapies, such as counselling, exercise and deep breathing, failed or proved to be of limited use. clinical benefit.

“There is a need for better education to ensure GPs are well equipped to counsel patients when appropriate and the type of medical cannabis, if appropriate,” she said.

“More education is also needed about the risks and the precautions to take, to ensure doctors are prescribing to patients safely.”

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