Since 2016, about 248,000 cannabis drug scripts have been approved in Australia, and the drug is increasingly being prescribed for a variety of diseases, a new study shows.
Researchers from the Lambert Initiative on Cannabinoid Therapy at the University of Sydney recently conducted an in-depth study of the Australian Cannabis Therapy Program, which began in 2016, and found that anxiety is among the top three causes of discharge, despite limited clinical studies. investigating the effectiveness of the drug for this disease.
Flower-based cannabis products that contain THC (the ingredient that makes you “uplifted”) have been designed to treat anxiety, especially men aged 31 and younger. However, senior author Dr. Elizabeth Cairns said the current evidence base for medicinal cannabis for anxiety is limited to a few studies examining products with a dominant CBD rather than products containing THC.
“Historically, the effects of THC have been described as alarming, although this may depend on dose and other factors.”
Using data from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – Australia’s special access scheme B – the researchers found that the other two main reasons for prescribing were pain and sleep disorders.
Evidence of the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in treating pain is controversial, at least in Australia, where the Australian Faculty of Painkiller proposes not to prescribe medical cannabis for this purpose. Very little research has also been conducted on the study of cannabis for the treatment of sleep disorders.
As a last resort
A co-author of the study and a doctor who prescribes cannabis as a therapist, Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilas of the University of Western Sydney said she was not surprised by the main reasons for prescribing.
“Pain, anxiety and sleep problems are often interrelated – chronic pain can also cause mental health and sleep problems.”
Although Kotirilas prescribes medical cannabis for pain, she said it should be done only as a last resort, after more fact-based behavioral and drug therapies such as counseling, exercise and deep breathing for pain , anxiety and / or sleep disorders have failed. or have limited clinical benefit.
Recipes per capita
The main reasons for prescribing surprised the researchers, as well as the conclusion that since 2020 the number of cannabis prescriptions has increased significantly – more than 85% of the total number of prescriptions to date has been issued since January 2020. Currently, researchers cannot say whether the growth was a pandemic. related.
A similar unexplained finding was the fact that prescribers in Queensland were responsible for more than half of prescriptions nationwide, well ahead of per capita discharges in other states.
The TGA’s extensive set of medical cannabis data, which includes 248,000 approved scenarios, is one of a kind worldwide. No other country has controlled prescriptions in this way since the establishment of its medical cannabis programs.
The size of the data set allowed researchers to find destination patterns in small but significant populations that might otherwise be omitted.
“Apart from the link between anxiety and flower products, we found other interesting associations, such as local CBD recipes for seizures,” Cairns said.
“This use has not been widely studied.”
The authors, however, note that the data do not include patient outcomes. Cairns said: “Unfortunately, we just don’t know if these treatments have been effective for these patients, but these data underscore what we can focus on next – conducting targeted research and / or clinical trials.
“There is a clear, unmet need for effective drug treatment for a variety of conditions that cannabis can help. For example, it would be worthwhile to conduct high-quality clinical trials on the use of floral products to treat anxiety, and this is definitely something that Lambert’s initiative and its staff can do in the future ”.
Cairns notes that the Lambert Initiative recently completed trials using CBD to treat anxiety (in partnership with Orygen) and with cannabinoids to combat insomnia (in partnership with the Woolcock Institute under the direction of Lambert Initiative researcher Anastasia Suraeva).