Medicinal cannabis prescriptions are mostly going to young people

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It’s been more than five years since Australia first introduced a medicinal cannabis program, and a new study has shed light on who exactly gets those scripts.

As reported by The Guardian, researchers from University of Sydney revealed a bunch of juicy statistics around who is being given prescriptions, and for what conditions. It found that chronic pain was the most common reason for medical cannabis being recommended to patients, accounting for 61 percent of prescriptions. Anxiety made up 16 percent of scripts, and sleep disorders 5.6 percent.

The study also shows that pre-pandemic, the age group receiving prescriptions ranged from 45 to 52-years-old. But since 2020, prescriptions are predominantly going to a much younger group, aged 20 to 31.

Queensland was the site of over 51 percent of medical cannabis prescriptions, despite Queenslanders only making up about a fifth of the population.

Sara MacPhail, who authored the study, says that further research is needed to work out why a disproportionate number of scripts were being written in the Sunshine State, and why it’s mostly younger people that are being prescribed the medication.

Interestingly, doctors are generally prescribing flower-based cannabis to patients with anxiety, even though there isn’t a robust body of research showing the flower-based form of the cannabis plant effectively treats the condition.

Similarly, VICE points out that research into the efficacy of cannabis use around chronic pain is limited and even controversial. For example, The Australian Faculty of Pain Medicine says there needs to be “more clinical evidence about the efficacy of medicinal cannabis before use as a treatment for chronic, non-cancer pain.”

However, Dr Elizabeth Cairns, who co-authored the paper, says that medical cannabis isn’t being prescribed to patients willy nilly.

“Both the medical practitioner and the TGA are involved in the prescription and approval of medicinal cannabis under the special access scheme in Australia, so it’s gone through rounds of approval before going to the patient,” said Cairns said to The Guardian.

“So I think medicinal cannabis is often seen as that last resort when other treatments have failed.”

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