Australia is set to join top players in the global medical cannabis industry
In 2016, the Australian Parliament legalized and decriminalized the use and sale of medical marijuana. Also, the cultivation of cannabis is now permitted for medical and scientific purposes through a national licensing scheme in Australia.
The Australian medical cannabis market is growing rapidly, and cannabis-based businesses are now looking for intellectual property rights in order to secure a competitive advantage. With growing support for an outright legalization of cannabis for any use, the medical use legalization will be watched closely as, perhaps, a guide to any future legislation.
Forecasters see potential in the Australian medical marijuana market, as approval rates for use of the drug have increased to an average of about 7 per day. There’s also potential for even more approvals as the market continues to widen. In fact, recent months have seen increases that surpass that average by far, as online applications for the drug have been made available. There have been predictions of the Australian market becoming a billion dollar market within a decade.
With such growth potentials, Australia is set to become a major player in the global medical marijuana market. A quick breakdown of the country’s medical cannabis market follows, describing the forms of the drug and analyzing Australia’s market potential.
How does Australian medical marijuana differ from other forms of cannabis?
The cannabis plant consists of more than 100 chemicals, known as cannabinoids, with each having different effects on our body. Two main compounds used in the medical application of cannabis are:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC - The psychoactive compound that produces the high.
- Cannabidiol, or CBD - The substance that does not produce any psychoactive effects.
Recreational marijuana consists of a higher amount of THC than that in medical cannabis and is used without medical justification. The high amount of THC in recreational marijuana has psychoactive effects, providing users with a ‘high’ feel.
On the other hand, Medical cannabis has a higher CBD content, eliminating the ‘high’ feeling associated with its recreational counterpart. It includes evidence-based cannabis products and is used with a doctor’s prescription only. Medical marijuana refers to the whole, unprocessed plant or the chemical contained within it to relieve the symptoms of six types of chronic medical conditions:
- Severe muscle spasms and other signs of multiple sclerosis
- Severe nausea, vomiting or wasting due to AIDS, HIV, or cancer
- Severe seizures caused by epilepsy
- Severe chronic pain
- Severe nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
- Palliative care
Note that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not approve the plant as a medicine.
What form does medical cannabis come in?
Nabiximols (Sativex®) is the only medical cannabis product registered for use in Australia for the treatment of spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. There are special pathways available to access unapproved medicinal cannabis, such as raw (botanical) cannabis, which can be vaporized for medicinal purposes. Others include oils, liquids, oral sprays, and gels developed for direct application to the skin.
Only a registered doctor can prescribe medicinal cannabis after a thorough assessment to decide if cannabis is appropriate for the patient’s condition. If doctors find it suitable for the patient, they must seek approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to prescribe it under the applicable state or territory laws. Rules relating to medicinal cannabis vary between states and territories and could affect whether or not medicinal cannabis can be prescribed.
How many people have been prescribed cannabis so far?
Initially, the lengthy approval process and lack of local supply of medicinal cannabis products made it difficult for patients to receive a prescription. Fortunately, recent reforms appear to ease the access to medical cannabis for patients nowadays. TGA, which regulates medical cannabis in the country, approved 469 applications for the drug under the Special Access Scheme between August and September.
Access to the drug is still very restricted two years after medical cannabis was legalized nationwide, but the new online application system has increased the number of approvals in recent months. TGA revealed that they approved 568 medical cannabis applications in November, a 42% increase, bringing the total number of approvals to 2,072 as of November 2018. According to a New Frontier Data analysis, the number of medical cannabis patients in Australia could count 330,000 by 2025. That would represent more than 1.2% of the population in the country.
The fastest-growing medical cannabis market in Australia
In 2017, the federal government legalized the import and sale of medicinal cannabis products from other nations. Today, the Australian medical cannabis market is worth around $18 million. According to Prohibition Partners, a market intelligence firm, Australia’s legal medicinal cannabis market could reach up to $1.2 billion by 2024 and then $3 billion by 2028.
However, compared to the U.S. cannabis market, cannabis sales in Australia are currently too low to be measured at this early stage.
Retail sales in the U.S. cannabis market are rapidly increasing
In the journey to become a major player in the international medical cannabis space, Australia would face challenges in terms of export distance and logistics. However, the country has excellent facilities for the production and testing of medical cannabis that show its potential to investors.
As the country passes the early stages of legalization, the infrastructure for obtaining prescriptions and cannabis will progress even more. This will have the effect of increasing medical cannabis sales, thereby growing the market to a size recognizable on the world stage.