New research has revealed significant differences between patients who source medicinal cannabis via a prescription compared to those who do so illicitly.

The anonymous online Cannabis as Medicine Survey 2020 (CAMS20) is the third instalment in the CAMS project. Largely funded by the Lambert Initiative, it has tracked the experiences of Australian medicinal cannabis patients since legalisation.

Initial findings from CAMS20 were presented at Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia’s ACannabis conference recently by Dr Llew Mills from the University of Sydney.

Where previous surveys in 2016 and 2018 captured the experiences of very few prescribed patients, this time 1,600 people completed the questionnaire. Of those, 13% were only using prescribed medicinal cannabis, 24% were ‘dual users’ of both prescribed and illicit cannabis, and 63% only used illicit products.

The survey found patients using prescribed cannabis, either exclusively or as dual users, were more likely to be older and more likely to be women, when compared to patients who only used illicit products.

Prescribed patients were less likely to be employed or have a tertiary qualification; less likely to smoke tobacco; and less likely to have used cannabis for recreational purposes.

Dr Mills said: “Prescribed users of medicinal cannabis appear to fit a different profile to those who source their medicinal cannabis illicitly.”

In addition to patient demographics, the survey asked about people’s experiences with medicinal cannabis products and the patient access framework.

Those who only used illicit medicinal cannabis reported that the composition of their products was more likely to be unknown, compared to prescribed-only and dual users (15% vs. 1%), and that it was more likely to vary between batches (19% vs. 2%). 

Dr Llew Mills

Illicit-only patients were much more likely to smoke their cannabis (44% vs. 6%), while prescribed patients were much more likely to use oral oil products or to vaporise (94% vs. 53%). 

Dr Mills added prescribed patients “appear to use [medicinal cannabis] more like a traditional medicine, which is encouraging”.

Illicit-only patients spent less money on their medicinal cannabis and consumed it less frequently than other patients. Dual users spent the most money on the medicine (A$118 per week), followed by prescribed-only ($81.40) and illicit-only ($73.20).

Interestingly, when patients were asked whether they agreed that the model for accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia was “straightforward”, 70% of illicit-only users strongly disagreed, compared to 30% of prescribed users. 

Dr Mills said this was “unsurprising given prescribed users had some actual experience with the system”.

Results from the CAMS20 survey are currently being written up, and will appear in several academic publications over the coming months.

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...