May Sees Record High SAS-B Approvals For Cannabis Medicines

Medicinal cannabis approvals in Australia via the Special Access Scheme Category B route saw 4,133 approvals for the month of May 2020.

For the month of May, the number of Australians that were approved for cannabis medicines reached a record high of 4,133 SAS-B approvals. This spike in approvals reflects the overarching upward trajectory of medical cannabis prescriptions, which is being aided by increased awareness of cannabinoid medicines on the part of both patients and health practitioners.

As we mentioned last month, these approval numbers are occurring despite decreased economic activity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to many warnings that we are headed for a recession. This demonstrates that Australia's medical cannabis industry is largely unaffected by extenuating circumstances, particularly given May's results and that cannabis is now seen as a legitimate medicine by a growing portion of the population.

The industry has certainly come a long way since the SAS-B portal was created in 2018, which saw only 491 approvals in December of that year. Now, the numbers are almost tenfold what they were then, and on almost every other front, Australia is making strides when it comes to cannabis legislation.

In January this year, the Australian Capital Territory made history when it legalized cannabis possession and cultivation for recreational use by adults. More recently, the Therapeutic Goods Administration suggested that CBD medicines become available over-the-counter in pharmacies in the coming years in Australia, and last week, Victoria launched an inquiry into Victorian's use of, and attitudes toward the drug.

In order to find out the reasons behind the spike, we spoke with FreshLeaf Analytics' Cannabis Consultant Rhys Cohen, who gave us potential reasons behind the record-breaking month. As Rhys explained, not only did approval numbers rise but the number of Authorised Prescribers (AP) of cannabinoid medicines also increased. In April, there were only 58 registered APs. In May, that number jumped up to 89.

Rhys continued to explained that doctors who are registered as APs can prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients without SASB approval, so the number of patients getting access to cannabis medicines in May was even higher than the 4,133 SASB approvals.

"In our Q1 2020 Patient, Product and Pricing analysis report we predicted that, due to the removal of State approval requirements in NSW and QLD, AP status would become more attractive for doctors and we would see more APs getting registered. This now seems to be happening," Rhys stated.

"On the upside, it means more patients getting access to products, and less work for doctors. On the downside, it means that SASB figures will become less relevant for counting and forecasting active patient numbers."

Overall, Rhys believes the Australian cannabis industry is in good shape moving forward.

"The medical cannabis industry in Australia appears to be surprisingly resilient. We haven't yet seen the worst of this economic downturn. But a combination of patient access reforms, product pricing reductions, and doctor education has facilitated industry growth despite economic and social hurdles."

With New Zealand's cannabis referendum happening in just a few months, and on top of this recent rally in SAS-B Approval numbers and APs, the conversation about cannabis may continue to grow louder in the near future here in Australia.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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