Medicinal Cannabis Prescribing in Australia: An Analysis of Trends Over the First Five Years

Front Pharmacol. 2022 May 10:13:885655. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2022.885655. eCollection 2022.


A regulatory framework allowing legal access to medicinal cannabis (MC) products has operated in Australia since November 2016. MC prescribing by healthcare practitioners (HCPs) is primarily conducted through the Special Access Scheme - Category B (SAS-B) pathway, through which prescribers apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA-the federal regulator) for approval to prescribe a category of product to an individual patient suffering from a specific indication. The dataset collected by the TGA provides a unique opportunity to examine MC prescribing trends over time in the Australian population. Here we analysed this TGA SAS-B dataset since inception with respect to age, gender, product type (e.g., oil, flower, etc.), CBD content, indication treated, and prescriber location. Results are presented descriptively as well as being analysed using non-linear regression models. Relationship between variables were explored via correspondence analyses. Indications were classified with reference to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (10th Revision). As of 31 August 2021, a total of 159,665 SAS-B approvals had been issued for MC products, 82.4% of were since January 2020. Leading indications for approvals were for pain, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Oil products were the most popular product type, while CBD-dominant products (≥98% CBD) accounted for 25.1% of total approvals. Approvals for flower products increased markedly during 2020-2021, as did approvals involving younger age groups (18-31 years old), male patients, and non-CBD dominant products. A disproportionate number of SAS-B MC applications (around 50%) came from HCPs in the state of Queensland. Associations between patient gender and age and/or indication with product type were found. For example, approvals for oil products were commonly associated with approvals for pain. While, overall prescribing increased dramatically over the last 2 years of analysis, stabilization of approval numbers is evident for some indications, such as pain. Current prescribing practices do not always reflect provided TGA guidance documents for MC prescribing. While acknowledging some limitations around the SAS-B dataset, it provides a unique and valuable resource with which to better understand current prescribing practices and utilisation of MC products within Australia.

Keywords: Australia; authorised prescriber scheme; cannabinoid; medicinal cannabis; prescribing trends; regulation; special access scheme; therapeutic goods administration (TGA).