Most Australians Still Source Medical Marijuana Illegally

A new survey of 1,388 respondents revealed some of the downfalls of Australia's Medicinal cannabis industry.

A Cannabis as Medicine Survey (CAMS-18) was published last week in order to diagnose the current state of Australia's medicinal marijuana industry and found several expected, but troubling results.

Medical cannabis was made legal in November 2016, and although access to cannabis products was initially limited, Australians are now gaining approval for medical cannabis prescriptions at record rates, exponentially higher than when medical marijuana was first made legal.

The CAMS-18 survey was an anonymous, online cross-sectional survey that utilized online media in order to recruit respondents aged over 18 that reside in Australia and use cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Respondents reported using cannabis to treat pain (36.4%), mental health (32.8%), sleep (9.2%), neurological (5.2%) and cancer (3.8%), with respondents using cannabis roughly 15 days per month.

The majority of respondents were employed in a full-time position, were university-educated, and the average age of respondents was 43 years old. This is to be expected, as health problems arise increasingly as individuals get older. However, it may also be surprising, in so far as older generations are more likely to have witnessed anti-cannabis propaganda and sentiments than a Generation-Z youth growing up in a largely pro-cannabis world.

The most common form of ingestion was through inhalation, particularly via smoking, with oral routes being taken 25% of the time. The average respondent spent AUD $82.27 per week on cannabis.

Nearly a fifth of respondents (19.1%) had never used cannabis until needing it for medical purposes, and 45% of respondents were using cannabis for non-medical purposes prior to them needing it for medical purposes.

Source: Cross-Sectional Cannabis as Medicine Survey (CAMS-18)

Speaking to the efficacy of medical cannabis in treating chronic conditions, respondents reported that cannabis made virtually every condition listed as "very much better" or "much better" consistently over 60% of the time. In the instances of chronic pain, anxiety, and inflammation, this is particularly reassuring, as current medicines such as opioids or anti-depressants are often coupled with undesirable side-effects that may be avoided through the substitution of these drugs with cannabis medicines.

However, the survey also revealed some concerning sore-spots for Australia's cannabis industry, which mirrors many of Canada's problems in its own bourgeoning cannabis industry.

The primary bottleneck facing the cannabis industry, as has been discussed in prior senate inquiries, is the price at which cannabis must be purchased through legal avenues. 47.6% of respondents reported that the cost of medical cannabis placed a strain on their finances, with nearly the same amount of respondents (46.2%) stating that they source their cannabis from illicit markets.

Even more concerning than this was that just 2.5% of respondents sourced their cannabis legally. If this sample of 1,300 respondents is, in any way, symptomatic of the broader cannabis industry in Australia, there are many strides that need to be made in increasing legal access to the plant and reducing the legal cost too.

This staggeringly low rate of respondents' use of legal cannabis avenues was largely found to be the result of respondents either not even knowing the plant was legal for medical purposes, or not knowing a medical practitioner who would prescribe it.

While the industry is still nascent at large, and a lack of awareness surrounding this previously-stigmatized medicine is to be expected, there are undoubtedly issues arising from this prevailing illicit market for cannabis. For example, 80% of respondents expressed fear in being arrested, and 37.5% were worried that their cannabis use could create issues with their employment.

When one considers the underlying conditions that motivate respondents to use cannabis, such as anxiety, chronic pain, and depression, it seems needlessly cruel to add a potential criminal record to that list simply because of the medicine they chose to use – particularly if that medicine is, in many ways, a preferable alternative to popular pharmaceutical options like opioids.

Australia provides fertile ground for a bustling, vibrant cannabis economy, particularly in the instances of medical cannabis. However, it's evident it will take a lot more work to make this a reality.

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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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