Despite having been legalised for some time, community confusion about dispensing medical cannabis still exists. Here is the current state of play in Australia.
Since the Federal government legalised access to medical cannabis in 2016, more than 100 cannabis products have become available. And with the global medical cannabis market sitting at around US16.47 billion dollars in 2021, and predicted to nearly triple in size over the next five years to US46.168 billion, a continued rollout of other medical cannabis products onto the market looks likely.
However, despite medical cannabis being legal in Australia for over five years, the product itself, its uses and medical dispensing is still not fully understood.
Medical cannabis – the product
Given the long connection of cannabis with casual drug use and abuse, it’s important to reiterate the difference with medical cannabis. The cannabis plant contains hundreds of bioactive molecules, but the two most studied are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC, is the molecule associated with the psychoactive or euphoric effects of cannabis, whereas CBD is not intoxicating and has minimal currently known side effects. Medical cannabis has the THC stripped from it, meaning it still offers the potential benefits offered by CBD.
How can medical cannabis be obtained?
Medical cannabis can only be prescribed by a GP, who must obtain permission from the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) to supply it to a patient.
The laws around medical cannabis differ from state to state, and you can check the laws in your state by visiting:
Over the past decade, the medical community and society more broadly have begun shifting their views on the use of both recreational and medical cannabis. This has led to the legislative changes around medical cannabis and, in some jurisdictions, similar changes are afoot around recreational cannabis.
But it is the medical uses of cannabis that are gaining the most attention. A range of studies and growing empirical evidence shows that medical cannabis can relieve pain, prevent or reduce vomiting, and has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This is because the CBD affects the communications systems in the brain and body, influencing mood, memory, sleep and appetite.
Some side effects have been noted, including difficulty concentrating, dizziness, drowsiness, and issues with balance. However, the benefits, particularly for those suffering epilepsy, MS, the side-effects of cancer treatment and chronic pain are slowly being deemed to outweigh these side effects. And yet despite the legalisation of medical cannabis, a University of Sydney study in 2020 found that only 2.7% of respondents legally accessed the product.
Key to this slow uptake were the impediments around obtaining a prescription from a willing GP, the cost of medical cannabis and the perception that large parts of the medical community were still not on board with medical cannabis as a remedy for illness over other more established remedies.
Medical cannabis supply
The impediments to using medical cannabis are likely to shift over time as the medical and healthcare community see more positive evidence of its use in patient care and the community more broadly comes to understand the difference between it and recreational cannabis.
The kind of investment and interest in such facilities bodes well for the medical cannabis industry and also offers a clear indication that both business and the science/medical community see a promising future for medical cannabis.
Please note: This blog post and its contents are for informational purposes only and should NOT be construed as medical advice and it should NOT be relied upon as such.
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