An in-depth study of Australia’s medicinal cannabis program has revealed cannabis has been prescribed for more than 140 conditions.
It’s probably not widely known medicinal cannabis has been used legally in Australia – with the appropriate approvals – since 1992. But it was only in 2016 a national scheme was put into place that greatly broadened access. However, this didn’t mean easy access. But over time as the red tape decreased, states aligned, doctors got on board and awareness of availability improved, the scheme has been increasingly utilised.
A study led by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics has found around 248,000 scripts have been approved for Australians since the scheme began, and more than 85 per cent of total prescriptions so far have been issued since the beginning of 2020. As we mentioned last month, the Therapeutics Good Administration has been really busy keeping on top of application review.
The Lambert Initiative researchers’ work was based on information sourced from the TGA. They found among the most common conditions medical cannabis is being prescribed for is anxiety – it was among the top three reasons for prescription, the other two being pain and sleep disorders.
“Pain, anxiety and sleep issues are often interconnected – chronic pain can also cause mental health and sleep issues,” said study co-author Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM.
The researchers note the boost in prescriptions for treating anxiety is despite a limited number of high-quality clinical trials investigating the drug’s efficacy for this indication. There are just a few studies investigating CBD-dominant products, rather than those with THC; the intoxicating compound that has been generally associated with inducing anxiety. However, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting THC products also containing CBD can counteract this effect.
In terms of prescription hotspots, Queensland prescribers were responsible for more than half of prescriptions nationally, a finding the researchers state is “inexplicable”.
As for outcomes, senior author Dr Elizabeth Cairns said:
“Unfortunately, we just don’t know if these treatments were effective for these patients, but this data highlights where we can focus our attention next – to do focused studies and/or clinical trials.”
The team’s findings have been published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.