More than half of prescriptions for medicinal cannabis in Australia given in Queensland, study says

The Guardian writes

Anxiety and sleep disorders were some reasons given for prescriptions despite lack of evidence for cannabis treatment, researchers find

More than half of all prescriptions for medicinal cannabis in Australia are written by doctors in Queensland, with prescriptions often given for conditions there is little evidence medicinal cannabis can treat, new research reveals.

Medicinal cannabis products such as capsules, creams, oils, lozenges, sprays and granulated flowers were approved for prescription 159,665 times between the start of Australia’s medicinal cannabis program in February 2016 and September 2021, research led by the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics shows.

Data obtained through a freedom of information request to drugs regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) revealed the age of those prescribed the drugs, the reason for prescribing, and the state or territory where the prescription was made.

Some of this information has since been made publicly available on the TGA’s Medicinal Cannabis Access Data Dashboard – revealing approved medicinal cannabis prescriptions have now reached more than 247,000 – though the data published is not as detailed as that obtained by the researchers.

The researchers’ analysis found anxiety was the reason given for 16% of medicinal cannabis prescriptions. Flower-based medicinal cannabis prescriptions for anxiety were most common, despite a lack of high-quality clinical studies showing treatments made from the flower of the cannabis plant are effective for the condition.

Pain was the most common reason for medicinal cannabis being prescribed (61% of prescriptions), and 5.7% of prescriptions were for sleep disorders. The data also shows that prior to 2020, people between 45 and 52 years old had the highest incidence of prescriptions. After 2020, those between 20 and 31 years old were the predominant group being prescribed medicinal cannabis.

Queensland was the source of 51% of prescriptions between 2016 and 2021.

The lead author of the study, Sara MacPhail, said it is unclear why the age demographic had changed, or why so many prescriptions were being made in Queensland. These were findings that need further study, she said.

Dr Elizabeth Cairns, a co-author on the paper, said another interesting but unexplained finding was that prescriptions of topical creams containing CBD, a chemical found in cannabis, were being written for convulsions.

“This usage has not been extensively explored,” Cairns said. “We are aware of clinical trials in that space, but not strong evidence.”

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