In the second exclusive taster for what’s coming up in next week’s Cannabiz Premium members-only webinar, co-founder and chief growth officer Martin Lane delves behind the latest SAS-B data to find out what’s really going on with PTSD and medicinal cannabis.
SAS-B applications for medicinal cannabis to treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have sky-rocketed in the last two years, with men making up the bulk of the cohort, according to an exclusive investigation by Cannabiz.
And despite the ongoing refusal of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to subsidise the medication for PTSD, the increase appears to be driven by former military vets funding the treatment out of their own pockets.
According to newly released data from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), PTSD applications leapt from just seven in January 2019 to 196 in March 2021, with a total of almost 2,000 in the last two years.
Of those, 63% were for men and 37% for women, with men in their 30s and 40s making up 39% of the total. Meanwhile, 78% were for a Schedule 8 medicine versus 22% for Schedule 4.
Healthcare professionals told Cannabiz they are seeing a surge of interest in medicinal cannabis as a treatment for PTSD.
Astrid Dispensary founder and managing director Lisa Ngyuen said she was receiving increasing numbers of enquiries not just from patients, but from psychiatrists as well.
“PTSD is a complex psychiatric disorder and, to date, there are not many effective treatments in Australia,” she said. “Medicinal cannabis, although lacking in clinical evidence, may be effective in helping with anxiety, sleep and recurrent nightmares, common symptoms of PTSD.”
Nguyen said a “huge population” of PTSD sufferers are military veterans and that word of mouth is driving interest among that community.
She added: “As this group of patients grows, the number of patient experiences grows. Never underestimate the ability of patients to voice their story and their own experiences with medicinal cannabis. This can have ripple effects in fuelling demand, particularly for indications such as PTSD.”
Nguyen said she expects GPs and psychiatrists to become more confident in prescribing cannabis products for PTSD, increasing patient numbers still further.
However, she said while around 80% of her clinic’s patients requesting cannabis for PTSD are military veterans, the DVA’s stance on only subsidising the treatment for chronic pain means the cost of medication is still a limiting factor, along with a lack of knowledge among medical colleagues.
“Some GPs may require specialist support letters from psychiatrists, and if such psychiatrists are not experienced in medicinal cannabis, this can also inhibit access,” she added.
Society of Cannabis Clinicians Australian Chapter (SCCAC) vice president and GP Joel Wren said burdensome approval processes, and poor supply of certain stock, was another limiting factor, especially for veterans.
“All indications require specialist approval for DVA funding, so it really hinders my ability to help vets in a meaningful capacity,” he added.
GP Matty Moore, whose patient and military veteran Derek Pyrah has twice been turned down by the DVA for subsidised medicinal cannabis to treat his PTSD, agreed the lack of efficacy of ‘guideline’ treatments is fuelling demand, the difference being cannabis appears to be working for his patients.
“PTSD patient retention is high with the great majority presenting for repeat prescriptions,” he said, adding many of his patients already know of the benefits as a result of self-medication.
“Interestingly, most of my PTSD patients using prescription cannabis have previously used it successfully for years, sourced on the black market,” he said.
Wren said he was seeing more requests via telephone consultations as the privacy makes it easier for patients to talk about their PTSD.
“The convenience of speaking with a doctor in the comfort of their own home seems to lessen the stigma and improve the patient’s comfort in engaging with improving their mental health,” he said.
He agreed many have already tried cannabis before speaking to a medical professional and tend to come back for repeat prescriptions.
“I find patients with PTSD want to trial cannabis as a legitimate medication as they either already self-medicate with good response (and certainly continue to fill subsequent scripts), or they feel let down by the conventional approach [to treatment],” he added.
Nguyen said she was unsurprised by the skew towards men, given the preponderance of ex-servicemen asking for cannabis to treat PTSD in her clinic. However, she said it could also be due to the ‘complex nature’ of PTSD conditions.
“There are often psychological and social factors related to fewer women being diagnosed with PTSD,” she said.
“I am passionate about supporting women speaking up about their condition, stripping away the stigma associated with PTSD and helping them get access to appropriate help.
“Many of these women have incredibly difficult stories and I can understand why PTSD could be underdiagnosed in female patient populations.”
Wren agreed different factors may come into play for men and women with PTSD.
“It may involve the underlying cause of trauma with different levels of associated stigma, ie. physical trauma versus sexual trauma,” he said.
Ananda Clinics founder and director Dr Jamie Rickord said there was a scientific explanation for rising PTSD patient numbers – cannabis appears to work for them.
“For some patients it gives them their lives back,” he said. “Patients are far less triggered, sleep better and are more consciously aware as a result of not being in fight or flight all the time.
“That is PTSD, the body is stuck in a place of hypervigilance as a result of the trauma not being processed and discharged.”
He agreed numbers will continue to grow as awareness increases and stigma reduces, but said the cohort goes beyond veterans to include others in highly stressful jobs such as first responders and police officers.
“I have many patients who are stable with huge improvements in their quality of life,” he added.
What’s behind the rise in PTSD patients and their healthcare professionals using the SAS-B pathway?
Join us to discuss this and many more detailed insights into the changing landscape of products and patient demographics at the Cannabiz Premium members-only webinar at 5pm on Tuesday, June 29.
From patient demographics to preferred products: the changing face of Australian medicinal cannabis will see Editor-at-Large Rhys Cohen and co-founder Martin Lane present an exclusive analysis of the market followed by an audience Q&A.
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- All insights provided by Cannabiz are based on SAS-B application data alone, and do not include data on compounded or registered cannabis medicines, or on patients accessing medicinal cannabis through Authorised Prescribers or clinical trials. SAS-B applications are made by individual prescribers, and the details provided may be incomplete or incorrect.