Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act about access to medicinal cannabis products across Australia show a chaotic patchwork of prescribing patterns, State and Federal authorisations and an uneven distribution of approvals between States.
The documents, subsequently provided to Australia’s peak medicinal cannabis advocacy organisation United in Compassion, indicate a gradual increase in approvals during the yet November 2017 – November 2018 with prescriptions mostly for pain.
The three data sets were put into graph form (attached) by Rhys Cohen of the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at Sydney University. They are due to be discussed at the forthcoming UIC Medicinal Cannabis Symposium 2019 where clinical and scientific experts from around the world will gather to share knowledge and expertise on the medicine.
The data and graphs show, respectively, approval figures per month broken down into State/Territory, by condition/symptom and finally by the type of product prescribed.
They reveal the majority of prescriptions were approved in NSW (792) with Victoria (274 approvals) next in line. Queensland and WA were not far behind with 234 and 203 approvals respectively and South Australia poor with only 85. Tasmania and the Northern Territory had only 13 approvals between them (12 Tas & 1 NT) making them the stragglers in the medicinal cannabis journey.
Conditions for which the medicine was prescribed included epilepsy, anorexia, muscle spacity and psychological disorders though the majority were for pain and the symptoms of cancer.
Where products were concerned, the bulk of these were for CBD-only medicines – the non-intoxicating component of cannabis which outnumbered those containing THC (the cannabinoid that can provide the ‘high’) by a factor of more than four to one.
CBD is Schedule 8 (‘Prescription Only’) substance in Australia’s Poison Standard despite it being available over the counter in many jurisdictions including the UK and irrespective of recent advice from the World Health Organisation that it should be de-scheduled completely within international drug treaties. THC is a Schedule 8 (‘Controlled’) substance thus placed alongside the opioids.
United in Compassion Founder Lucy Haslam said she was unsurprised yet highly disappointed by the figures which she believed show ‘Australia is still only playing at this.’
‘Take Germany for instance, which started with cannabis a year after we did: The German Cannabis Association estimates around 142,000 prescriptions were issued in 2018, representing 50-60,000 private and statutory health insurance patients – or three times as many as since the first 10 months of legalisation in 2017.’ .
‘Regardless of how well the TGA tries to tell everyone how well we’re doing – I believe there were around 700 approvals last month – it’s pathetic. These figures don’t even represent the number of patients either. How many are repeat prescriptions? How many don’t get filled because of the huge cost? What about the postcode lottery that’s developed in Australia? These are all questions the TGA doesn’t want you to ask.’
An estimated 100,000+ people are currently believed to be using illegal cannabis or cannabis products in Australia, a far cry from the 2,500 or so understood to be accessing it legally.
‘This is the main lens through which the medicinal cannabis situation should be viewed,’ says Lucy, ‘the fact that thousands – including kids with severe epilepsy – are still being criminalised in this country because of our appalling and dishonest framework. Only drastic legislative and / or regulatory change can remedy things, so that’s what we’ll continue to fight for.’
NOTES FOR EDITORS
For interviews etc. contact Lucy Haslam
Tel: 0409 165889
The Fourth UIC Medicinal Cannabis Symposium takes place this week from Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th March in Tweed Heads. More information here:
 The three data sets are available here:
Approvals by State-by-State
By product (S4 & S8 in Poison Standard)’