Nearly 2000 Australians prescribed medicinal cannabis

Stock image.
Stock image.

An ASX-listed medical marijuana company says is providing cannabis to nearly 2,000 Australian patients with debilitating conditions, numbers it expects to more than double by year-end.

Melbourne-based Althea says 1,925 patients have been prescribed with its cannabis products in Australia, and it is adding about 18 new patients per day.

Chief executive Josh Fagan expects the company to have between 4,000 to 5,000 patients by year end.

“The patient numbers are starting to get serious,” he said.

“We think Australia has the potential to have 250,000 eligible patients in three to four years, even with the difficult regulatory framework we work in.”

Getting doctors on board is the biggest hurdle, Mr Fagan said, as they need to either be approved as an authorised prescriber or must submit each prescription to the government for approval under a legal framework for medical cannabis created in October 2016.

The Department of Health’s Therapeutic Goods Administration says that as of August 31 it had approved over 14,000 applications for medical cannabis, including 2,893 in August – up from 670 in January.

Mr Fagan said those figures didn’t show whether those prescriptions were actually filled, however, and he believes Althea has about 30 to 40 per cent of the Australian medical cannabis market.

There are 296 Australian healthcare professionals who have prescribed Althea’s products, the company said.

Seventy per cent the prescriptions are to treat chronic pain, including from cancer, Mr Fagan said.

Other patients use it to treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as sleep disorders.

Althea has five products, four of which are oils that are taken through liquid dropped on the patient’s tongue using an oral syringe.

Some of the oils contain THC, the ingredient from marijuana that gets patients high, while others aren’t psychoactive and just contain CBD, Mr Fagan said.

Althea’s fifth product is dry flower cannabis, although that only consists of about five per cent of prescriptions, Mr Fagan said.

Still it’s important, as some palliative care patients have lost the ability to swallow, he said.

Althea’s products cost patients about $300, with most patients finding that’s enough to last them for a month, Mr Fagan said.

Once patients have a prescription they simply bring it to a pharmacy which orders it from Althea.

Althea also entered the UK market in June.