What does CBD oil in medicinal cannabis really cost?
There has been an incredible groundswell of advocacy for medical cannabis in a grassroots, business development and medical capacity in recent years. However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty and sensationalism surrounding the health benefits or possible harms of medical cannabis.
Such attitudes maintain long-established barriers to access for patients and can impact their ability to receive unbiased and holistic advice on products – including on product cost, and the cost of ongoing treatment.
Medical marijuanas Australia cost
For many, the weariness of disagreeable side effects from conventional treatments means trying medical cannabis treatments are still worthwhile, regardless of cost. However medicinal cannabis pricing can still present a barrier for some new patients, and sometimes be difficult to manage for existing ones, partly due to the ongoing lack of federal government subsidization via the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme.
Medicinal cannabis as a modern medicine
Putting aside cost, a wide range of Australians believe medical cannabis oil has a role to play in modern treatments. The 2016 Cannabis As Medicine Survey (CAMS) assessed the medical use of cannabis amongst Australians: 81% of people reported their cannabis consumption was primarily for medicinal purposes. Most individuals utilised cannabis for pain (back, neck, gastrointestinal), mental health (anxiety, depression, PTSD) as well as for sleep or neurological complaints.
So how much are Aussies willing to pay for medical cannabis?
As this CAMS survey was conducted assessing the medical use by laypersons acquiring illicit cannabis, it did not include condition or cost data on authorised or medically prescribed medical cannabis. Nonetheless, average costs derived from this provide a useful picture of how much individuals are paying to treat their medical conditions with cannabis, as well as how much they would be willing to pay.
Within the CAMS study, individuals were paying an average of $10-13.50 per day. When queried on how much they would be willing to pay for medical marijuana through legal pathways, the average cost amounted to $11 per day. The large majority (80%) of those involved in the study reported that their symptoms were effectively managed by medical cannabis.
Australia’s product prices dropped and numbers risen
FreshLeaf Analytics has been monitoring patient growth and product pricing since the medical cannabis system came into place. In their Q3 2020 report, FreshLeaf announced that prices had experienced the largest year-on-year drop since the launch of the sector. There are now products available under 10 cents per mg in all product formulations except balanced or high THC, for which the minimum prices are 11 and 16 cents per mg respectively.
And more progress flanks the drop in prices. There are now 150 products available for medicinal cannabis doctors to prescribe in the Aussie market, a double in the last year. In addition, the TGA has also proposed that over-the-counter CBD is likely to come into play mid next year (2021). All these factors mean Australian cannabis doctors now have access to more medicinal cannabis options when attending to their patients.
Is Australian medical cannabis “affordable”?
FreshLeaf also found the average dose per day was increasing. What was 37mg/day in Q3 2018, was now 92. It said that, “It is likely that this increase in dose is driven by a combination of lower prices, which have previously been shown to drive patient dose intake, as well as patients increasing titration levels over time.”
In addition, with the minimum recommended retail price of medical marijuana sitting at 6 cents per mg, this is 25% of where the market was 3 years ago at its inception. This is, “a huge benefit to consumers and a clear example of market forces, not regulation, being successful in driving prices down,” according to FreshLeaf.
While this is generally great news for many of Australia’s medicinal cannabis patients, there is still room for improvement to accomodate some who may require heftier models of support.
Frustrating lack of PBS subsidy lingers
In light of the fact the PBS doesn’t cover medicines unauthorised by the TGA (there is currently no subsidised price for prescribed medical cannabis) this may still make cannabis medicines out of reach for potential patients in Australia. Medicines subsidized in Australia by the PBS were cost-capped in 2019 at approximately $40.10 per prescription ($6.50 per month for concession card holders).
By comparison, any price points above these amounts will likely make unsubsidized medicine such as medicinal cannabis seem ‘expensive’ to patients. And considering many of those requiring medical cannabis suffer from complex and debilitating conditions that impact their ability to earn, such prices can be unmanageable.
Medicinal Cannabis vs cigarettes and coffee?
While it’s unscientific, it’s nonetheless worth comparing weekly medical marijuanas cost to other consumables prevalent in Australian society, such as coffee and cigarettes. We can quickly see discrepancies in what individuals are willing to pay for products, whether helpful or harmful to their health and wellbeing.
The average cigarette smoker spends $100 per week on tobacco products, while at the opposite end of the health scale, the average person spends $60 per week on medical and hospital services.
The standard coffee drinker (especially in Victoria) can spend as much as $4-12 on coffee per day, or on average $55 a week. These are certainly simplistic comparisons, yet they offer insight into where our society is willing to place its money!
Potential patients put off by sensationalist reports
While some reports on exorbitant medical cannabis costs are certainly sensationalist, there is local Australian research confirming people are likely to forgo healthcare due to the cost, or may “self-medicate”. And if medical cannabis treatment costs aren’t within the range of the average PBS-covered pharmaceutical drug, in addition to the associated stigma, some patients may not investigate cannabinoid medicines even if many of them might otherwise benefit from it.
The future offers hope of lower medicinal cannabis costs in Australia
So what can we expect to see in the future? As the market grows, product options expand and the TGA begins to approve certain medical cannabis and CBD oil products, prices are likely to continue decreasing. The future will also depend on the direction the Australian medical cannabis manufacturing and production market takes, and only time will tell.