Most people self medicating with illicit cannabis

While manufacturers are investing to increase legal production of medicinal cannabis products, most Australians are still self-medicating with illicit cannabis, according to a study by the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative.

The third Cannabis as Medicine Survey (CAMS20) did find, however that numbers accessing prescription products have risen dramatically.

The study of 1,600 people using cannabis between September 2020 and January 2021, published in the Harm Reduction Journal, found 37 percent of respondents had received a legal prescription for medicinal cannabis.

This is a significant increase from the 2.5 percent of respondents reporting prescription use in the 2018 iteration of the CAMS survey (CAMS18).

Those who only used prescription cannabis tended to be older, female, and less likely to be employed.

The Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney’s Professor Nicholas Lintzeris said: “The data suggests we have seen a transition from illicit to legal use of medical cannabis.

“A number of benefits were identified in moving to prescribed products, particularly where consumers reported safer ways of using medical cannabis.

“People using illicit cannabis were more likely to smoke their cannabis, compared to people using prescribed products who were more likely to use oral products or vaporised cannabis, highlighting a health benefit of using prescribed products.”

Overall, respondents reported positive outcomes of medical cannabis use, with 95 percent reporting improvement to their health.

The main reason for using prescribed medicinal cannabis was chronic pain, consistent with other prescription data from the Therapeutics Goods Administration.

People using illicit products were more likely to be treating mental health or sleep conditions.

Despite the large increase in patients receiving prescribed products in the past two years, only 24 percent of prescribed patients agreed that the current model for accessing medicinal cannabis was easy or straightforward.

A barrier identified by most respondents was the cost of accessing medicinal cannabis, with an average cost of $79 per week, highlighting the need to address cost of treatment for patients.

People using illicit medical cannabis also cited an inability to find medical practitioners who are willing to prescribe, consistent with findings from a recent 2020 Senate Inquiry into the barriers to patient access to medicinal cannabis in Australia. More work is required to enhance health provider education regarding medicinal cannabis.

The survey was undertaken as a partnership between the Discipline of Addiction Medicine in conjunction with the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the University of Sydney.

Image: Lambert Initiative

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