For the first time since it was legalised in Australia in 2016, applications for medicinal cannabis access using the most common pathway dropped in Australia in 2022. But it doesn’t mean the number of Australians accessing medical cannabis have; and legally.
Administered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia’s Special Access Scheme (SAS) enables access to therapeutic goods not included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), which are considered unapproved. With very few exceptions at this point in time, medical cannabis falls into this category.
Medical cannabis approvals under the SAS are usually under category B of the scheme (SAS-B); which is an application pathway accessible by health practitioners.
Since 1992 and up to the end of last year, there had been 326,049 SAS-B approvals, the vast majority of those in just the past few years. In 2022, there were 118,340 SAS-B medical cannabis applications, which is a pretty impressive figure. But in 2021, there were approximately 122,000.
So, what’s happened?
The decrease in 2022 doesn’t mean patient numbers are dropping. Due to reforms the TGA introduced late last year, fewer approvals are required in some circumstances. Among the changes, since late November Authorised Prescribers (APs) have been able prescribe a specific type of product to a specific group of patients directly under the AP’s care for a specific condition without needing each individual patient to be approved by the TGA.
Acquiring AP status – previously a very complex process – was also made less frustrating, more rapid and cheaper for some medical cannabis treatments; which has no doubt further boosted authorised prescriber numbers that were already increasing.
The TGA also notes:
“Approval and notification numbers do not equal the actual number of patients receiving these medicines under the SAS. This is because one patient can be associated with repeat applications for a single product as well as with approvals for multiple products.”
More information on the SAS can be found here. And for a detailed explanation of how to interpret Authorised Prescriber related statistics since the new TGA dashboard was implemented in November (which is still a little confusing), check out this article on CannaBiz.