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Australian cannabis market posts brisk growth in first half of 2023

Australia’s medical cannabis industry remained in robust health during the first half of 2023, according to data from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the country’s medicine and therapeutic regulatory agency.

Medical cannabis approvals through an Authorized Prescriber (AP) have continued to grow rapidly so far this year.

Medical cannabis approvals through an AP reached approximately 304,000 in the first half, up more than 120% over the same period last year, when there were 137,000 AP approvals.

One of the reasons approvals are rising is because of the increasing number of authorized prescribers, who are allowed to prescribe certain cannabis-product formats in five respective categories.

The aggregate number of medical practitioners approved under the AP scheme rose from 175 in 2020 to 636 in 2021 and to 1,454 in 2022.

By category, Authorized Prescriber prescriptions so far this year are:

  • At least 98% CBD (roughly 58,000).
  • 60%-98% CBD (38,000).
  • 40%-60% CBD (40,000).
  • 60%-98% THC (18,000).
  • More than 98% THC (145,000).

AP approvals present only a rough gauge of the market.

Another regulatory pathway where patients acquire medical cannabis is via the so-called Special Access Scheme (SAS-B) route.

Patient approvals rose from approximately 25,160 in 2019 to 57,710 in 2020 and almost 122,000 in 2021.

Approvals via the SAS-B pathway dropped off in 2022 – to 117,000 – as patients gravitated to the AP pathway.

So far in 2023, there have been some 87,000 approvals via the SAS-B pathway.

The most common SAS-B “dosage form” was medical cannabis delivered as an oral liquid, with 44,345 approved applications.

The next biggest dosage forms for 2023, so far, are:

  • 32,461 approved applications for dried herb.
  • 6,073 approved applications for inhalation.

Unlike Statistics Canada, the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not gauge medical cannabis sales, making it difficult to put a price tag on the overall market.

However, Rhys Cohen of the Victoria, Australia-based Penington Institute estimated that Australian patients spent roughly 250 million Australian dollars ($167 million) on prescription medical cannabis products in 2022.

Cohen is global partnerships and engagement adviser at the drug-policy organization.

Authorized Prescriber data is available here.

SAS-B data is available here.

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