Ten years ago Collaroy resident Ashlee developed chronic neuropathic pain after a car accident left her with broken ribs. The condition means she often has pain flare ups, without trigger, in her left rib cage at the site of the injury.
"I tried a lot of different things to help manage the pain and nothing was really working," she said.
"I saw physios, I saw acupuncturists, osteopaths and tried all different kinds of supplements and diets to see if any of that would help."
27 year-old Ashlee is one of a growing number of Australians who've turned to medicinal cannabis since it was legalised in 2016. In July, a record high number of 10,755 medicinal cannabis prescriptions were approved under the Therapeutic Goods Administration's Special Access Scheme.
Leading the push to help patients access cannabis-based treatments are northern beaches researchers Cass Hunt, managing director of FreshLeaf Analytics, and Dr Mark Hardy, medical director at CA Clinics.
"The stigma is starting to disappear around medicinal cannabis. There's been a reframe from it being an illicit drug to it being a legal medicine that can really help people with ailments like pain," said Ms Hunt.
There's been a reframe from it being an illicit drug to it being a legal medicine that can really help people with ailments like painCass Hunt
"And there's still a lot of growth left in the industry to bring the people accessing medicinal marijuana through illicit channels into legal channels by making sure the prices are as cheap as possible, and making it as easy as possible for eligible patients to access."
According to Fresh Leaf Analytics there are currently over 60,000 active patients across Australia using legal medicinal cannabis for treatment, up from 35,000 patients in 2020. FreshLeaf Analytics expects the number of patients to grow to 75,000 by the end of 2021.
The average age for northern beaches patients using medicinal cannabis is 50 and 19 percent of users are over the age of 72.
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Dr Hardy said 70 per cent of the referrals CA Clinics get are for people, like Ashlee, who live with chronic pain. Other conditions it's been used to treat include sleep disorders, anxiety, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and nausea and vomiting.
"There are people we see who have tried everything for pain and it doesn't work or they've become resistant to opioids and they're almost verging on the point of becoming dependent on it," said Dr Hardy.
"My experience with using medicinal cannabis on patients has been almost always a positive one, and very rarely it's been negative."
Ashlee, who is a healthcare worker, has been using medicinal cannabis for a couple of years now. She says getting a prescription for it was difficult and some of the health care professionals she sought advice from were skeptical, but it is helping.
"A big thing for me was it helped me wean off stronger opioids, because they often have nasty side effects, and you can develop a tolerance for it," she said.
"It gave me another option, if I was having a flare up, to help manage it. It's another tool in the box."
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