Why Australians Are Ditching Street Cannabis for Legal Prescriptions

In the bustling modern era, where medical advancements surge forward at lightning speed, Australia’s embrace of medical cannabis demonstrates how progressive healthcare can work for everybody. If given a chance.

The Cannabis as Medicine Survey 2022–2023 (CAMS-22) unveils a tapestry of revelations about Australians’ engagement with cannabis for therapeutic purposes, juxtaposing the nuances between those who turn to prescribed cannabis and those who still navigate the often varied shadows of illicit use.

Rapid Growth and Changing Profiles

Since the historic legalization of medical cannabis in 2016, a seismic shift has rippled through Australia.

Initially, adoption trickled in like a hesitant stream, but by 2019, the floodgates had opened. The CAMS-22 survey, conducted online from December 2022 to April 2023, captures this transformation vividly.

Among 3323 respondents, an overwhelming majority, 73%, have transitioned to prescribed medical cannabis, while 27% remain tethered to illicit sources. This shift mirrors not just legal reforms but an evolving societal consciousness that increasingly recognizes cannabis as a legitimate medical ally.

Demographic and Usage Patterns

The CAMS-22 study paints a portrait of divergence. Prescribed medical cannabis users are predominantly male, more likely to be in stable relationships, boast higher educational achievements, and secure employment.

This contrasts with illicit users, who present a more varied demographic tapestry.

Intriguingly, prescribed users typically embark on their medical cannabis journey later in life, adopting a more consistent, medical-centric approach.

Consumption methods further illuminate this dichotomy.

Prescribed users overwhelmingly favour oral or vaporized routes, deemed safer and more controlled, whereas a substantial fraction of street cannabis users still cling to smoking.

This stark contrast underscores the pivotal role of medical guidance in steering patients toward safer, more effective consumption practices.

Medical Conditions and Effectiveness

Ailments such as pain, mental health disorders, and sleep disturbances dominate the landscape of medical cannabis use, bridging both prescribed and illicit domains.

Yet, prescribed users predominantly target pain and sleep issues, while illicit users often gravitate towards mental health treatments.

This divergence likely stems from the cautious approach of healthcare providers, who favor prescribing cannabis for conditions with robust supporting evidence, like pain management.

Despite these differences, a resounding consensus emerges: both groups report high levels of effectiveness, with 97% of respondents acknowledging symptom improvement.

This glowing endorsement underscores the therapeutic potential of medical cannabis, even as empirical evidence, particularly for mental health and sleep disorders, remains nascent.

Benefits of Prescribed Cannabis

From a harm-reduction vantage, prescribed medical cannabis offers a plethora of advantages.

Users experience fewer side effects, possess greater certainty about their cannabis composition, and sidestep the legal quagmires associated with illicit use.

These benefits underscore the critical importance of legal access and medical supervision in optimizing cannabis therapy.

Preferences Among Dual Users

The survey also sheds light on the preferences of those who have navigated both prescribed and illicit realms.

Dual users overwhelmingly favor prescribed cannabis for its consistency, ease of access, efficacy, and side effect profile.

The sole exception is cost, where illicit cannabis appears more attractive.

However, when excluding those who obtained illicit cannabis at no cost, prescribed users actually spent less weekly, reflecting improved affordability of legal products.

Implications and Future Directions

The CAMS-22 findings underscore the surging acceptance and utilization of prescribed medical cannabis in Australia.

However, they also highlight a pressing need for continued research to fortify the evidence base for cannabis efficacy across diverse medical conditions. Healthcare providers and regulators will needs to collaborate to ensure patients receive accurate, safe, and effective treatments.

In the interim, independent consumer education and prudent prescribing practices will be vital in maximizing the benefits of medical cannabis for Australian patients.

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