Our medical cannabis market is growing fast, but are older people getting on board?

38% of Australians know someone who uses medical cannabis. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • 22% of people (or 1 in 5) considered or were given a medical cannabis prescription within the last 12 months
  • In Medigrowth’s recent research survey 64% of Australians aged 59 to 77, and 56% of those aged 78 and above, expressed support for the use of medical cannabis 
  • Over the years, Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments have either used their current laws or passed specific laws to allow the prescribing and dispensing of medicinal cannabis products 

A recent global report has flagged Australia as the fastest-growing medical market in the world for medical cannabis.

This aligns with recent research by Australian medical cannabis biotech company Medigrowth which distributes medicinal products to customers around Australia. Their research results suggested over half of those aged over 78 supported the use of medicinal cannabis. 

In Australia, healthcare professionals are observing a notable shift in attitudes toward medical cannabis in the over-65 demographic as the potential benefits for age-related conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain and Alzheimer’s disease become more known and accepted – becoming a “mainstream” form of medicine.

“Positive patient testimonials, coupled with a deeper understanding of cannabinoids’ therapeutic properties, have made healthcare professionals less sceptical and more open to prescribing medical cannabis to seniors.” 

 

How do I access medical cannabis?

It is important to note that currently, The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) doesn’t cover medical cannabis. 

The cost of medical cannabis can vary from $50 to $1,000 per week depending on your illness, the product and the dose.

Mr Guskich said that while there is a recognition of the potential financial burden of medical cannabis treatment, subsidy initiatives are not uniformly established nationwide.

“Seniors interested in medical cannabis should proactively check with local health authorities, medical practitioners, or cannabis clinics to understand the specific financial assistance options available in their region.”

These options can be discussed with your GP, as they are also one of the only ones who can prescribe you medical cannabis outside of a specialist or by taking part in a clinical trial. 

Your doctor or specialist will decide if medical cannabis will help you and which type to prescribe, offering guidance based on your health history and the current medications you may be taking. 

Your doctor will also need to complete forms to get the necessary Government approvals. To prescribe these products your doctor must have approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as most medical cannabis products are unregistered drugs.

Once approved, your doctor can write you a prescription. You can take this prescription to a pharmacy to have your medical cannabis product dispensed.

There is also now a variety of telehealth services connected with medical cannabis distribution companies, like Medigrowth, that connect you with GP’s authorised to prescribe medical cannabis. Some can even send the medicine to your door in discreet packaging. 

While a GP can get the ball rolling on your medical cannabis journey, Mr Guskich recommends seeing a specialist to give more tailored advice as to what type of product would best suit you.

He said, “Experienced medicinal cannabis prescribers will be best positioned to evaluate individual patient history and ascertain whether Cannabidiol (CBD) or Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products may be trialled and establish a dosing and treatment plan for patients with chronic conditions.”

Some tips for taking medical cannabis

As a new form of treatment, it isn’t always clear what to expect at the start of your medical cannabis journey. 

Tip 1 – Do your research 

There is a world of information online about medical cannabis, some common side effects, and the types of products available and their uses.

For example, the vast majority of medical cannabis prescriptions in Australia are for oral oils, but many people assume that they’re more likely to be prescribed dried flower. 

Having a preliminary Google may help you formulate some preferences and questions to ask once you’re sitting in the doctor’s office. If internet access is not an option, don’t worry, your doctor should be able to walk you through all you need to know before you are prescribed medical cannabis. 

Tip 2 – Start low and slow

Most of the unpleasant side effects associated with cannabis – paranoia, anxiety, nausea – are a result of improper dosing or taking way too much.

Your doctor will suggest a starting dose, along with a schedule for increasing (or “titrating up”) the dose and it is important to stick to that to avoid any adverse side effects. If you do experience any side effects, it is important to flag any adverse symptoms to your clinician. 

Tip 3 – Keep a diary and be patient

The wide variety of cannabis forms, strains and schedules,  as well as your own unique biochemistry, means everyone’s treatment will work slightly differently and it may require tweaking until it is just right for you.

With this in mind, it is handy for both you and your doctor to have a journal tracking your own experiences with the medicine. 

It doesn’t have to be too official – just include the basics such as the type of medication, along with the dose, cultivar/cannabinoid balance and a few notes on what you felt and how effectively it alleviated your symptoms is a good start.

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  1. My house cleaner uses medical cannabis due to pain from his injured shoulder. He was breathalysed and banned from driving for 6 months due to taking prescribed cannabis.

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