Medicinal cannabis use booms as prescriptions soar

Thousands more Australian doctors are prescribing medical cannabis to patients now than just four years ago, as the industry continues to grow.

Data obtained by the Herald Sun shows more than 2000 medical practitioners used the Special Access Scheme to prescribe cannabis products this year - up from just 12 in 2016.

With more money continuously being poured into the sector, as medical research around medicinal cannabis emerges, approved Australian prescribers almost doubled since last year alone.

Medicinal cannabis has shown promising results for some people with chronic and terminal illnesses and to help with the side effects caused by other treatments.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert. Picture: AAP
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert. Picture: AAP

Internationally, researchers have been looking at medical cannabis products as part of the treatments for serious conditions including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy and palliative care.

Earlier this month the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced it would down-schedule low-dose CBD - a medicinal cannabis product - which could make it available over the counter for adults at pharmacies.

The decision came following a safety review of low dose CBD products that found the adverse effects of the products were not serious.

Greens health spokeswoman Rachel Siewert welcomed the decision but said more needed to be done to support businesses developing CBD products in Australia.

"I'm afraid that ignorance and ideology are getting in the way of patient care," she said.

"Patients are unable to access the medicinal cannabis treatments they need due to regulatory barriers and enormous cost."

About 70,000 medicinal cannabis prescriptions had been doled out by Australian doctors over the past four years, according to Department of Health officials.

More than 6000 medical cannabis prescriptions were issued in Australia in September alone.

The true number of Australians using the products could be much higher, with a large black market trade across the country.

While the federal Department of Health does not collect data on how many on illegal trade, officials told a Senate hearings in October it was a "significant number".

The federal government announced a further $1.7 million into the sector in the federal budget for extra staff in the Office of Drug Control to deal with unprecedented demand.

The domestic medicinal cannabis industry is worth almost $1.8 billion.

At June this year, there were 114 medicinal cannabis licences in force.

That was expected to jump to 140 by next June.

Originally published as Medicinal cannabis use booms as prescriptions soar

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