This year’s federal budget announcement has come with a major and welcome surprise for chronic pain sufferers — the inclusion of a new medicinal cannabis product subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
So far, the cannabidiol Epidyolex is only approved for treatment of Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which causes drug-resistant epilepsy, but there’s hope this signals a changing attitude towards cannabis use in Australia.
In layman’s terms, the PBS is a program determining what drugs may receive government subsidies and be sold to consumers at a reduced cost.
Given medicinal cannabis has typically been sold to consumers at up to $600 a month (or via the black market), the news comes as welcome relief.
The ruling, which came into effect on May 1, 2021, is estimated to save around 116 Australian patients up to $24,000 per year.
It’s just one of several new and amended PBS listings included in this year’s budget, which amounts to $878.7 million worth of funding designed to improve access to appropriate medicines and subsidies across the country.
Also included in these listings are treatments for hypertension, ADHD, chronic dermatitis, breast cancer, osteoporosis and chronic migraines.
Each essential medicine will be reduced in cost as part of purchase agreements between health companies and the government — although the details of these agreements were not made public in the budget due to “commercial sensitivities”.
While medicinal cannabis is still difficult to get in Australia, having Epidyolex listed on the PBS is a great first step towards normalising the treatment for chronic and otherwise untreatable pain.
It’s still only claimable by Dravet syndrome sufferers and is the sole cannabidiol treatment to be subsidised, but it’s an important change for Australia.
Should the scheme prove successful, the treatment could be extended to others who rely on the medication to live pain-free, such as people who suffer endometriosis.
Given thousands of Australians currently use cannabis for medical reasons including pain relief and to treat depression or insomnia, it’s clear this decision could have major benefits for Australian health.
Whether it will change the reluctance towards fully legalising cannabis use in the country remains to be seen.