Medicinal cannabis banner

Patients With Unmet Mental Health Needs Are Turning to Medicinal Cannabis, Despite Limited Evidence

Jun 12, 2023


Sydney, Australia--New research indicates that healthcare practitioners in Australia are increasingly prescribing medicinal cannabis for psychiatric conditions, despite limited clinical evidence supporting its efficacy. The research conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney, suggests that these prescribing habits could pave the way for new research.

[Image via Creative Commons]

According to a report published by The University of Sydney, the study, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, was led by Dr. Elizabeth Cairns from the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at the Brain and Mind Centre, a world-renowned hub for cannabis and cannabinoid research.

In the report, Dr. Cairns pointed out that their findings confirm many Australians have unmet mental health needs and that medicinal cannabis is frequently being trialed as an alternative to conventional therapies. These products are not typically prescribed as first-line therapy, suggesting patients turning to cannabis have likely found other treatments unsuccessful.

The report noted that researchers analyzed the complete record of medicinal cannabis prescribed through Special Access Scheme B (SAS-B), using data provided by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) since cannabis's legalization in 2016.

Prescriptions for medicinal cannabis have been growing annually since its introduction to the pharmaceutical market in late 2016, with a significant increase from 100,000 to 300,000 prescriptions observed from February 2021 to September 2022.

The report noted that apart from chronic pain treatment, anxiety is the second most common condition being treated with medicinal cannabis in Australia, despite the surprisingly poor evidence supporting its efficacy. Prescribing is also increasing for conditions like depression, ADHD, and autism, where an "evidence gap" exists.

Interestingly, over three-quarters of products prescribed for anxiety contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), traditionally considered anxiety-inducing. This finding suggests potential overlooked therapeutic properties of THC.

As per the report, the study underlines the need for more research funding to examine the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis products in improving mental health and quality of life. It also highlights the difficulties healthcare professionals face when finding reliable information about prescribing the vast array of medicinal cannabis products and whether THC or CBD products are best for different psychiatric conditions.

Learn more in the full report published by The University of Sydney.