Rhys Cohen from FreshLeaf Analytics spoke at the MedCann World Forum talking about the Australian medical cannabis market and the price of cannabis medication.
The MedCann World Forum was held in November 2019 in Malta, which was attended by the Medical Cannabis Network. The event witnessed plenty of speakers from the medical cannabis industry, including speakers from legal, medical, fintech and commercial sectors sharing key insights into the industry.
FreshLeaf Analytics is the business intelligence arm of the biggest chain of medical cannabis clinics in Australia. Rhys Cohen, the Principal Consultant of FreshLeaf Analytics, has served the Australian cannabis sector for almost five years now. Cohen’s cannabis industry analysis has been cited by the Office of Drug Control and Deloitte Access Economics.
Cohen discussed industry regulations and framework, manufacturing, patient access for medication and cannabis cultivation in the Australian market.
The Australian medical cannabis framework
Australian medical cannabis framework is definitely one of the most pharmaceutically adopted medical cannabis frameworks in the world.
Cohen said the Office of Drug Control was initially underfunded and hence there were some delays in the industry regulations, however, they’ve been experiencing improvements and the cannabis industry seems to be picking up significantly.
He also added that there are nearly 100 different products available for doctors to prescribe in Australia, out of which three are locally manufactured.
In Australia, there are two ways to get access to medical cannabis. The most commonly used pathway is known as a special access scheme category B pathway. In this a doctor consults with a patient, determines if cannabis is appropriate and necessary for their treatment.
After this, the doctor then seeks permission to prescribe cannabis medication from the federal government. Upon receiving approval, they receive a special access scheme with category B approval. But what’s more interesting is that Australia does not have a prescribed list of conditions for accessing medical cannabis, so in theory, any condition is prescribable.
Cohen further explained that their organization’s market intelligence has estimated nearly 9,000 patients across Australia who are currently using prescribed cannabis medicine. This number is envisioned to grow by 10,000 new patients by the end of the year.
The Existing Medical Cannabis Landscape in Australia
About two-thirds of Australian patients are prescribed cannabis medications that contain a combination of both CBD and THC. On the other hand, one-third of patients are prescribed pure CBD products that contain no other cannabinoid except CBD with a 2% margin of error, according to Cohen.
He said the medical cannabis market is heavily based on oil products. While there are formal restrictions on product type in Australia, in theory, any product line is available. Though they are permissible, they have to meet safety standards and should be of rigorous quality that are regulated by the federal government.
One of the major reasons why people are more inclined towards pure CBD products besides clinical justification is that in Australia, random drug tests are conducted on people who drive.
So it is highly possible for a police officer to pull over a car and ask the driver to take a drug test. If they are found positive to the presence of THC, the psychoactive compound of marijuana, they are charged under drug driving, regardless of whether they are in pain or not. Moreover, there’s no legal defense for patients who use prescribed cannabis medicine.
In Australia, doctors can prescribe cannabis for a variety of medical conditions including anxiety, stress, pain, PTSD, and cancer.
Cohen said psychiatric disorders including anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are some of the most common ailments that patients being prescribed with medical cannabis suffer. Research suggests that medical cannabis has high potency and is extremely beneficial to improve the overall wellness and health of people. However, it is not proven for every ailment.
There are some conditions that have been prescribed cannabis for, with quite a lot of evidence behind them, but some of the conditions have essentially no evidence that justifies their clinical prescription of medical cannabis. It is up to the doctor to request the federal government as to why in this particular case, for this particular patient, medical cannabis should be prescribed.
Reducing Medical Cannabis Costs for Patients
There is a lot of pharmaceutical research going on, especially with patented products. Cohen said that they have quite a lot of competition, which is actually good for patients. It includes pharmacy mark-ups and other costs associated with it.
Patients roughly pay anywhere between $5 to $15 a day for medical cannabis, which seems relatively reasonable for many patients. However, those who suffer from epilepsy require quite larger quantities of medical cannabis to achieve therapeutic efficacy and they might be paying more than $50 a day.
Currently, there is no public reinvestment or insurance of any sort that covers the cost of this medication. And it is unlikely to happen in the future as well. This is why the Australian government is encouraging increased imports and supporting local manufacturers of the products to drive down the costs for patients, making it accessible to a larger audience.