The Australian medical cannabis scheme has experienced triple-digit annual growth since cannabis was rescheduled for human therapeutic purposes in 2016.
Medical cannabis in Australia is an unlicensed product, not included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). For this reason, doctors must consider treatment options included in the ARTG before applying to access an unapproved medical cannabis product. Advertisement of said products to the general public is not allowed, which has recently caused concerns within the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Australian medical cannabis patients get access mainly through two different pathways:
- Authorised Prescriber scheme (AP): 89 doctors are currently registered to prescribe medical cannabis. Over 1,400 medical practitioners have prescribed medical cannabis products to date (note: this includes both AP and SAS B schemes).
- Special Access Scheme Category B (SAS B): More than 90% of medicinal cannabis applications are processed online. SAS B decisions for medicinal cannabis are, on average, made within 30 hours of submission. Less than 5% of SAS B applications are not accepted immediately but require further information to be provided from the prescriber.
Supply of medical cannabis products is increasing both through international imports and domestic production. As of December 2019, there were 87 licences to cultivate, produce and/or manufacture medicinal cannabis in Australia, which are collectively authorised to produce in excess of 35,000 kg of dried flower annually.
The rise in supply has brought a decrease in prices which has helped in terms of patient affordability, and also an increase in the number of formats available to patients, with over 130 individual products being prescribed at least once. This sets apart the Australian model from other pharmaceutically-controlled systems in place in Europe, where the number of products and formats available is much more restrictive.
The results of a recent cross-sectional survey on medical users during the last 12 months found affordability a concern for a majority of users, with over 70% stating that the government should reimburse medical cannabis purchases. Nevertheless, the bureaucratic hurdles imposed by the Australian access schemes (AP and SAS B) seem to be of higher concern to patients, with almost 90% declaring that the system was difficult to navigate.