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High Prices of Medicinal cannabis prescription costs patients $600 a month, forces people to turn to the black market

Brent Arcuri, a 20-year-old from the Gold Coast takes a small dose of cannabis oil regularly. Suffering from Crohn’s disease, an inflammation of the bowel that makes the digestion of any food a painful chore, Arcuri carefully puts a drop of a small dose of cannabis oil every day. 

Cannabis oil has garnered the trust of many people across the world as it is known for its alleged health benefits. From treating inflammation to muscle spasms, chronic pain, anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia, cannabis oil is now widely touted for its anti-inflammatory properties. Moreover, since the compound is non-psychoactive in nature, meaning it does not have any psychoactive effects or cause hallucinations, a wide range of people including young children and the elderly are using cannabis oil to combat ailments. 

Arcuri said every day he wakes up, he has some sort of pain due to eating food and it can lead to feeling him very fatigued all the time. After years of struggling with the ailment and trying various medications with limited success, a friend suggested him try medical cannabis. Arcuri was also recommended cannabis oil from his doctor. 

The federal laws were changed in 2016 to legalize cannabis oil for medicinal purposes and allow doctors to prescribe cannabis products to patients suffering from an array of diseases.  But accessing medicinal cannabis is still not an easy task for many. Arcuri told that it’s only after you get accepted, they tell you the associated costs with it. 

In the beginning, Arcuri was paying about $600 a month for medicinal cannabis, but he soon discovered that he could buy medicinal cannabis oil for nearly a quarter that price in the black market. 

While the government is taking progressive steps towards the legalization of cannabis products, lack of regulatory measures and exorbitantly priced products make it difficult for people to access legal, high-quality and tested cannabis oil. Currently, there is no subsidy for cannabis products under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). 

As for doctors or medical practitioners who wish to prescribe cannabis oil to patients, they must first apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration to seek individual patient approval, which is a time-consuming and strenuous process that propels patients to access cannabis products from the illegal market at a faster pace along with affordable prices. 

But the licensed cannabis industry warns customers that there’s no guarantee about the safety and the quality of the cannabis products on the black market.

Fleta Solomon, who runs a pharmaceutical company at a secret facility in the south of Perth said as compared to cannabis grown in a backyard, they have complete control of their environment. This allows them to continually test plants for bacteria, contaminants, and mould. Solomon’s company farms cannabis to make legitimate medicinal cannabis oil, one of its first kind in Australia. 

Given the stringent regulatory policies that Solomon’s company follows, along with the high production costs, results in a relatively more expensive product as compared to that on the black market. 

According to the head of the TGA, John Skerritt, the process of listing cannabis products under the PBS is underway, but it may take some time. Professor Skerritt said they are working towards clinical trials and companies to put submissions to them. But those clinical trials may take a couple of years, and once they have the results, they have to submit them, just like they do with any other medicine. 

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Amidst the chaos in the cannabis landscape, a Senate inquiry is looking into the loopholes and problems with access and regulation of the cannabis industry as a whole. 

Emma Broughan, a Melbourne-based mother, relies on cannabis to relieve chronic pain that she has been battling with since a car accident in 2015. Broughan says that the accident has not only impacted her physical health but also change her life in several other aspects. Just like Arcuri, Broughan was prescribed cannabis oil by her doctor but wasn’t able to afford the prescription. 

She went on to say that her treatment with cannabis oil would have cost her a third of her income, so basically, her pension would have to go into this medication. Constrained due to financial conditions and the expensive treatment, Broughan now believes that she is left with no other option than to buy cannabis oil from the black market, a practice that might put her at a greater health risk. 

While prescriptions for medicinal cannabis are available, these products remain highly-priced, which means they are often inaccessible for many Australians. She said it’s all set up so they could fail because it’s right there but they can’t have it with such high prices.

Contrarily, there is limited scientific data to back up the medicinal claims of cannabis oil, a major reason why governments across the world are holding back

Ivan writes about Cannabis at The Cannabis Radar. He has a degree in Nutrition Sciences from University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Centre. He likes to spend his spare time reading to his daughter or spending time with his wife.

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