Warning to Britain: Australian patients are still struggling to access legal medical cannabis

Australia legalised cannabis for medical use two years before the Conservative Government caved in to public pressure to legalise access to the medication in the UK.

Despite this two-year head start, Australian patients are still struggling to legally access medical cannabis. Either their medical condition has not been included on the desperately small qualifying list, or they are unable to afford the tens of thousands of dollars for a private prescription.

To those familiar with the progress of medical cannabis in the UK, the Australian patients’ struggle to legally access potentially life-saving medication is eerily similar to the British struggle. While it has been officially recognised that medical cannabis is an effective and safe treatment for childhood epilepsy and MS, the medication is not available on the NHS.

Only a handful of prescriptions have been granted to patients on the NHS, with none of those being for full-spectrum (THC as well as CBD) medical cannabis.

Being prescribed medicinal cannabis in Australia, just as in the UK, involves a far more complicated process than being prescribed any other pharmaceutical medication. British and Australian patients cannot be prescribed cannabinoid-based medications by their regular doctor or GP. They must consult with a specialist.

In Australia, a doctor must be registered as an ‘Authorised Prescriber’ or be prepared to make an application on behalf of their patient through the TGA ‘Special Access Scheme’.

In Britain, the story is the same. Two private clinics specialising in medical cannabis have opened in 2019 to cater for the increasing demand for medical cannabis, one in Manchester, the other recently opening in London. Consultations in these clinics alone cost upwards of £200.

Families across the Commonwealth are being forced to pick between two impossible choices: somehow find the tens of thousands of dollars/pounds to cover the cost of the private prescription, or break the law.

Some families in the UK are forced to pick both.

Scottish mother, Lisa Quarrell and her son, Cole, who suffers (pharmaceutical) drug-resistant epilepsy, have recently made headlines across the UK for breaking the law to bring medical cannabis back into the UK.

Their story shares many similarities with patients in Australia.

”If it wasn’t for Jenny Hallam and that incredible cannabis oil that she gave us, [Ben] would have [died]. I will always be grateful.”
Michael, Ben’s father and nurse

Sharing their story with 7news, Ben, who suffers Stiff Person Syndrome, a rare, “one in a million” condition, which causes extreme stiffness in his muscles as well as incredibly painful spasms, and his father Michael paint a picture which resembles that of a British patient trying to legally access medical cannabis.

“As someone who was very against it, I would say that medicinal cannabis has not only saved my life, but it’s given me life again.

“Five years ago, I didn’t expect that I was going to be seeing him above the ground.

”If it wasn’t for Jenny Hallam and that incredible cannabis oil that she gave us, he would have. I will always be grateful.”

In the eyes of Australian law, Jenny is as much of a criminal as a common thief. However, just like the countless cannabis heroes in the UK, Jenny risked her freedom to improve and, in some cases, save, the lives of patients like Ben by making and donating medical cannabis oil.

For this heinous crime, Jenny now faces up to nine years in Australian prison after she was pleaded guilty to drug charges.

Without Jenny, Ben’s situation looked bleak: how would he continue to access this life-saving medication?

Paying thousands of dollars a month is how.

Michael revealed the cost of the prescription:

“$1,695 in advance every three weeks to provide the only medication that has given my son any form of relief, as opposed to what I was getting from Jenny [for] free.

“The other option is I grow my own.”

These options are the same as those presented to British patients.

Tegan Appleby, 9, suffers a rare, drug-resistant form of epilepsy. Her three-month supply of medical cannabis costs her family £2,500.

Her family could break the law and grow their own, which would be significantly cheaper. It would also run the very serious risk of separating them from their daughter.

The progress of medical cannabis in Britain is currently running the same line as that of Australia, unless British politicians act to make the life-changing medication affordable to all those who need it.

Families should not have to put themselves in between a rock (paying £10,000s a year for a private prescription) and a hard place (illegally growing their own cannabis) for the sake of accessing a medication which has been globally recognised as safe and effective.

Politicians are becoming increasingly aware of the power of medical cannabis; now it is time they act with empathy to bring legal access to all who can benefit from medical cannabis.