Medical Cannabis Costs

Since medical cannabis was legalised in 2016, the cost of cannabis in Australia has dropped drastically. However, patients are still paying prices that are considerably higher than people in other countries.

Price has been a huge barrier to access for a number of patients. In many cases, the price, or perceived cost, of medical cannabis has led people to purchase their medicine on the black market. A study of medical cannabis use in Australia showed that 21.2% of respondents purchased their medicine from an illicit dealer because legal medical cannabis was too expensive.

Telling you how much medicinal cannabis will cost you is a difficult task because there are various factors that go into how much you’ll spend as once-off costs for patient approval, and ongoing costs for your medication vary. Prices for cannabis itself vary based on things like the type of product (i.e. flower or oil), the concentration of cannabinoids in the product, the amount required, the source, shipping, other possible fees and pharmacy charges.

In this article, you’ll learn what the cost of medical cannabis is in Australia, why it’s so expensive and which medical cannabis products are the least expensive. If you’d like to jump to a section that interests you, here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. Why is medical cannabis so expensive in Australia?
  2. Medical cannabis product prices.
  3. How much does medical marijuana cost?
    1. Australian grown cannabis products are cheaper.
  4. Factors in lowering the cost of medical cannabis.

Why is medical cannabis so expensive in Australia?

There are two main reasons that medical cannabis is so expensive in Australia:

  1. Most of our medical cannabis is imported from overseas.
  2. The strict legal requirements that the government imposes on medical cannabis manufacturers and distributors.

About 78% of our products are manufactured overseas and about 91% of the raw materials to make products locally are imported. Often, from a patient’s perspective, it appears that companies in Australia are taking advantage of this and charging really high prices. While clinics do charge a fee for completing the application process and some independent GPs mark up their application process, you need to understand the other areas that add to the price.

There are costs associated with:

  • Importing the product
  • Storing it in special facilities (cannabis is currently a schedule 4 or schedule 8 drug)
  • Quality control and testing
  • Shipping costs – because medical cannabis can’t be stored in pharmacies until an approval is received.

These supply chain costs and regulatory hurdle costs don’t get added to products in other countries. So, until Australia has more homegrown and manufactured products, the price of medical cannabis will continue to be high.

Calculating Your Product Cost

Cannabis pricing cost formula honahlee

You’ll often hear people say that legal medical cannabis is way too expensive and that they paid over $300 for a bottle. While the price paid may sound high, it’s not about the product price, it’s about the cost per milligram of cannabinoid. So, before we cover the actual cost of medical cannabis in Australia, it’s important that you understand the best way to calculate the total cost.

There are a number of factors that go into patient spend including:

  1. Medication prescribed
  2. Product cost
  3. Daily dosage

The two real unknowns prior to becoming a patient are the medication prescribed and daily dosage. 

While you may be able to do your research and find out product options, your doctor will be the one to choose the product right for you. You may start with a CBD oil and eventually end up on multiple or a different medication. 

Dosage is different for everyone. The one factor that is guaranteed about dosage is that your doctor will start you low and increase dosages slowly. The titrating up allows you and your doctor to find the dosage that helps with your symptoms and has limited or no side effects.

When calculating your medicine spend, we recommend that you cost your product at price per mg of cannabinoid in the product.

So if you have a product that’s 100mg/ml of CBD, the bottle is 30ml and the product cost is $150, here’s the calculation:

Cannabis pricing cost cbd example honahlee

This type of calculation helps you to compare different product prices with your doctor on an equal playing field. Now that you have an understanding of your product spend, we can talk about product prices.

Medical cannabis product prices

freshleaf h2 2021 patient spend vs dose
FreshLeaf Analytics H2 Report 2021

According to the FreshLeaf Analytics’s H2 2021 report, patient dosages have increased yet again. Patients now average 112 of cannabinoid up from 92mg in 2020. The good news is that the price of legal medical cannabis products are still decreasing. There are two other important points that patients must know when starting their medical cannabis journey.

First is the fact that the current legal medical cannabis product floor price of $0.05 per mg of cannabinoid. The second is that we’ve hit a point in the Australian cannabis market where patients who are buying legal medical cannabis are paying about the same price as those purchasing cannabis on the green market (illegal market).

This equivalent cost of legal to illegal is especially relevant when it comes to oil based products. You’re unlikely to find a reputable brand of CBD oil from overseas that you can purchase online with a cheaper price than our legallly prescribed and highly regulated oils in Australia.

Cost of Cannabis

How much does medical marijuana cost in Australia?

Currently, the average monthly spend for a legal medical cannabis patient is $278 which works out to roughly $9.26 per day. When calculating how much medicinal cannabis costs, you need to understand the price per mg of cannabinoid.

The floor price (lowest price) of medicinal cannabis products is $0.05 per mg of cannabinoid. Here’s a breakdown of price per mg by formulation – not including flower:

  • Balanced THC:CBD – $0.08 per mg
  • CBD Isolate – $0.05 per mg
  • High CBD – $0.05 per mg
  • High THC – $0.12 per mg
  • THC Isolate – $0.05 per mg

And, the average price of flower is $17.64 per gram, with a minimum of $12.90 per gram.

Legal cannabis on par with green market products

The CAMS-18 survey reported both the spend, and “willing to pay” amount for patients who buy products illegally is a weekly median of $50. Currently, the median weekly spend for legal medical cannabis patients is $51. This means that people are:

  1. Paying a similar amount whether they are prescribed cannabis legally, or purchase illegally.
  2. Spending the amount people say they are willing to spend.

In a market where legal medical cannabis was unachievable for most patients just a year ago, this is exciting news.

It’s also important to note that not all product prices are equal. As mentioned above, a majority of products are imported from overseas, so the products that are produced locally are going to have lower supply chain costs and therefore be less expensive.

Cannabinoid content may impact patient spend

Doctors and researchers often debate whether products that contain only one cannabinoid (isolates) require higher doses than products with a broader range of the chemicals in cannabis (ie full spectrum products). 

While there’s not enough research to prove the benefit of having a whole plant extract, also called the entourage effect, the data shows that Australian patients who are on an isolate are taking a higher daily dose of their medicine.

average daily dose mg per day medical cannabis patient reported freshleaf analytics data
Data from FreshLeaf Analytics Q3 2020 Report

Balanced products contain equal CBD and THC whereas high CBD products will contain mostly CBD and small amounts of THC and potentially other cannabinoids.

Australian grown cannabis products (Cheaper)

While there are a number of Australian cannabis product manufacturers and distributors, there are a limited number of product companies who supply locally grown and manufactured products. These companies are:

  • Australian Natural Therapeutics Group (ANTG)
  • Cannatrek
  • Cannim
  • Cronos
  • Cymra
  • Elevated Extracts
  • Entoura
  • Heyday Medical
  • iX Syrinx
  • Little Green Pharma
  • Medlab
  • SunCo Green
  • Tasmanian Botanics
  • Zelira Therapeutics

While this may seem like quite a few, there are over 50 product suppliers in Australia. And, many of these suppliers only have a few products that are Australian from seed to patient. You can learn more about the products available in Australia in our product list article.

While price is definitely an important factor when talking to your doctor about cannabis medicine, it’s also crucial that your doctor finds the right product with the correct cannabinoid and terpene content for your condition. It’s also important to remember that like other medications, cannabis does not work for everyone.

Finally, it’s important to remember that you can go through multiple pathways to access medical cannabis. We’ve outlined the processes at a high level to help you calculate your potential costs.

Lowering the price of medical cannabis

There are a number of factors that will push the price of medical cannabis down. Many of these things are already happening behind the scenes and will take a bit more time. 

Domestic Suppliers And Cost

First is an increase of domestic suppliers. There are a number of domestic suppliers that have already received their grow and manufacturing licenses. These companies are now in the process of going through a range of processes:

  • Multiple grow cycles to prove their plant consistency.
  • Quality Assurances processes to make sure the products are safe.
  • Stability testing to make sure their products have the required shelf life.

Once these producers have met the requirements and enter a product into the market, product prices should drop yet again.

Number of Patients And Cost

Another issue is the number of medical cannabis patients accessing cannabis through legal channels in Australia. Currently there are only about 100,000 patients which means we’re not seeing the benefits of economies of scale. As more patients enter the market and legal demand increases, the price of cannabis medicine will decrease.

Authorised Prescribers And Cost

Finally, an increase of the use of the Authorised Prescriber (AP) scheme will help lower the cost of medical cannabis. Authorised Prescribers have permission, from the TGA, to prescribe specific cannabis products for specific conditions without going through an application process each time. 

Because APs are more readily able to prescribe, manufacturers and suppliers are able to then wholesale ship a product into pharmacies due to the demand. APs ability to prescribe means these suppliers can do wholesale shipments for foreseeable supply. This in itself allows suppliers to reduce the costs, thereby the pharmacies, reducing the cost to the patient. 

Conclusion

At honahlee we’re all about making medical cannabis more accessible from both a cost and streamlined access standpoint. We know that there are a lot of people out there who are opposed to legal access due to the difficulty and cost. 

We understand that these are real and serious challenges patients are facing. We also believe that the more people who engage in the legal access process, the faster we’ll see the results we all want – easier access at a lower cost.

Medical cannabis prices have come down and will continue to drop. And surprisingly, an independent review on CBD shows that the legal and black market costs are similar in many cases. We need more local licensed growers, and more patients to go the legal route to not only create economies of scale but also to continue to show government bodies that cannabis is a medicine that’s helping people and we need better access. 

If you’re using medical cannabis from your own supplier, it doesn’t hurt to contact your doctor or a clinic to learn about your options. With some of the clinics, the first contact or call costs less than $50 which would allow you to get a better understanding of your situation.