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Medical Cannabis Prescriptions in Australia Have Ballooned Since 2020, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 10, 2022   
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The number of medical cannabis prescriptions in Australia have increased significantly since 2020, according to a new report published in Frontiers in Pharmacology.

While medical cannabis has been legal in the country since 2016, the new study found that over 85% of the total prescriptions given to date have only been issued since January 2020.

The most common reasons for these prescriptions were anxiety, pain and sleep disorders.

High prescription rates down under

To get a better picture of the medical cannabis sector in Australia, the researchers, who were largely from the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, sent a freedom of information request to the country’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, a government agency that regulates the country’s medicines.

On receipt of the relevant data, the research team discovered that 159,665 applications for medical cannabis were approved in Australia between February 2016 and September 2021. The vast majority of these approvals (85%) were issued from January 2020.

Over half of all prescriptions (51%) were written by doctors in Queensland.

Prior to 2020, people aged between 45 and 52 had the highest incidence of prescriptions. After 2020, however, those aged between 20 and 31 became the predominant prescribed group.

As to why the demographics of patients seemed to change after 2020 – or, indeed, why prescriptions seem to have ballooned over the same time period – the authors of the new report are unsure. Further research, they say, is still needed.

After reassigning some overlapping qualifying conditions (“autism” and “childhood autism”, for instance), the team also found that the cannabis prescriptions had been issued to treat 149 separate conditions.

The three most common of these conditions were anxiety, sleep disorders and pain, despite the fact that the Therapeutic Goods Administration offers no clinical guidance for prescribing cannabis for the first two, due to a paucity of robust evidence.

Yet, in a press statement, study co-author Vicki Kotsirilos, as associate professor at Western Sydney University, stated that the top three reasons didn’t surprise her.

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


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