Australia welcomes more medical cannabis approvals than ever before

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

During the month of July, in excess of 5,500 patients were approved to receive unapproved medicinal cannabis products in Australia. These figures, which come courtesy of Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), indicate the country’s largest monthly increase ever.  

Comparing July’s figures with June, when the TGA logged 4,630 approvals, last month saw 20 percent growth. Since patient interest is steadily surging combined with the fact that Australia’s medical cannabis market is fairly new – it is indicative of things to come. 

Currently, North America boasts one of the most diverse and lucrative cannabis markets on the planet. While Australia’s population of 25 million may be significantly less than North America’s, the third largest continent on Earth’s gradual acceptance of the cannabis plant is paving the way for a competitive market to blossom.

Just last year, around 30,000 patients were approved to receive medical cannabis in Australia. This year, the figure is projected to increase to around 70,000.

“Even if there were no increase to the current rates of prescribing, by the end of 2020, about 70,000 prescriptions are anticipated to have been written in Australia,” wrote the Department of Health to a medical cannabis-studying Senate committee at the beginning of 2020.

In order to keep up with demand, imports are being favored. As time progresses and domestic producers start bulking up their production capacity, imports may not be so important in the future. 

Australia’s medicinal cannabis products can be obtained using access schemes

In 2019, Australia was the main location for Canadian cannabis oil exports. Records published by Canadian health officials showed that approximately 3,700 liters (977 gallons) of cannabis-enriched oil was transported to Australia for both medical and scientific purposes during the course of the year. In addition to this, 204 kilograms (450 pounds) of dried cannabis was imported into Australian territory.

Since June 2015, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) was added to Schedule 4 (S4) Prescription Only Medicine of the Poisons Standard in Australia. This meant that it became legal to produce therapeutic cannabis products, so long as they contain at least 98 percent CBD and no more than two percent of any other cannabinoid

Included in the list of Controlled Drugs in S8 of the Poisons Standard are nabiximols, nabilone and dronabinol. An Australian-registered medical practitioner must provide a prescription for the procurement and possession of S8 substances.

Health professionals must apply for medical cannabis in Australia via TGA

Medical practitioners in Australia who wish to get their hands on unapproved medicinal cannabis products must abide by the Authorised Prescriber Scheme. It is possible for medical practitioners to become Authorised Prescribers under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and its associated regulations. 

However, various other health practitioners, such as dentists, cannot gain authorization. Those practitioners can venture down avenues under the Special Access Scheme (SAS). Manufacturers can be found on the Office of Drug Control website. The website features a full list of medicinal cannabis product suppliers to aid prescribers in choosing the right type of product.