Medical Cannabis Versus Opioids

In late February of 2016, the Australian government passed the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill in parliament. This amendment allowed lawful cultivation of cannabis in Australia for medicinal distribution for the first time.

The use of cannabis as medicine has grown exponentially since the bill was passed, with more than 25,000 prescriptions for medical cannabis approved in Australia in 2019 by the TGA.

Most of those prescriptions were for chronic pain and other conditions that cause severe discomfort, such as:

  • Chronic Pain
  • Chemotherapy-induced nausea
  • Palliative care indications
  • MS (multiple sclerosis)
  • Cancer pain
  • Epilepsy
  • Spasticity from neurological conditions
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Dementia
  • Autism
  • Neuropathic pain
  • IBS
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety
  • Tourette syndrome
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Endometriosis

It has also been prescribed to people suffering Anorexia and Bulimia and assist wasting syndrome associated with chronic illnesses such as cancer.

The current state of the Australian cannabis industry

We are now more than four years into a medical cannabis industry in Australia, and so far, the statistics for cannabis as a therapeutic alternative are very promising. This is not just a positive to patients and the medical industry either. The current projection for the Australian legal cannabis industry is projected to be worth $1.5 billion by the year 2025.

The 2019 landmark decision by the Australian government allows the export of Australian made medical cannabis products to the international market. This includes the export of products like:

  • Cannabis flower
  • Cannabis-based oils (including CBD oil)
  • Lozenges
  • Oral sprays and patches
  • Capsules and tablets

With access to a growing global market for medicinal cannabis products, these financial projections could be modest. The chances are with those kinds of profits; the industry will not be disappearing any time soon.

The opioid option

There is; however, another staple pain relief drug that has been prescribed to chronic pain sufferers in Australia since the turn of the century – opioids.

Opioid drugs include any substance derived from the natural ingredients in opium, including their synthetic and semi-synthetic derivatives. This also includes the infamous street drug, heroin.

Australia is one of the many countries that has seen a significant increase in opioid use over the past 20 years, with 2015 seeing nearly 15-million opioid prescriptions being dispensed nationwide.

So far, opioids have been the best treatment for chronic pain to date, but opioids, unfortunately, come with some disturbing side effects, including severe addiction. The other primary concern with opioid use is mortality.

A 2018 report stated that 1045 Australians aged 15-64 died of opioid-related overdoses in 2016, and 76% of these deaths were attributable to pharmaceutical opioids. The report highlighted a significant increase in opioid-related deaths, jumping from 3.8 to 6.6 deaths per 100,000 Australians from 2007 to 2016. These worrying statistics are in stark contrast with recorded deaths related to medical cannabis use, which globally is zero.

There have also been no official deaths recorded from illegal recreational use of cannabis either. Out of 1740 drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2018[1], 25% were attributed to heroin alone.

The future of cannabis

Although it is still early days for medical cannabis research-wise, the number of people who have been prescribed cannabis over opioids have reported improvements.

Many have stated that even though the side effects of medicinal cannabis are still noticeable; they are far less intrusive on their lives in comparison to common opioid medications.

There is also the question of addiction. As of 2017, some reports found 1-in-10 people who were prescribed an opioid developed an addiction to their prescription. That would mean potentially 1.4 million people across Australia developed an addiction after receiving treatment for genuine pain relief.

We have no definitive conclusions on the addictive nature of cannabis, but unlike opioids, there have been no isolated compounds confirming any physically addictive properties.

Studies relating to what is now known as marijuana use disorder, which may indicate a tendency towards potential dependence, but nothing like the dark stories of chronic addiction attributed to the use of opioids.

So, with such a significant contrast in statistics between the two chronic pain relief medications, why is cannabis taking so long to be approved, made more accessible, and more affordable to pain sufferers in Australia?

Especially considering that many western allied countries are reaping the benefits of not just a medical cannabis industry, but also a multi-billion-dollar recreational cannabis industry, boosting their economies substantially.

The fact is, medical research takes time, and even though medical cannabis is showing tremendous potential to replace a myriad of traditional pain and nausea medications, opioids have been standard medical practice for these conditions for decades. Still, we think it is safe to say, the future of medical cannabis as it stands is looking very bright.

CanView, the future of medical cannabis in Australia

The team here at CanView are at the forefront of comprehensive medical cannabis distribution. We provide Doctors, pharmacies, and patients with one simplified ordering platform, offering the widest range of medical-grade cannabis products in Australia.

If you are a Doctor, patient or pharmacist who would like to know more about our services, then head to the FAQ page of our website for more information.


Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, Illicit opioids, including heroin – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Retrieved 1 June 2020, from

Understanding the Opioid Crisis in 2019 | Ausmed. (2020). Retrieved 1 June 2020, from

CanView does not endorse the use of Medicinal Cannabis without lawful prescription. Just like any Medicine, Medicinal Cannabis may have both positive and negative side effects on the user, and should only be prescribed to patients by a Health Professional with the authority and expertise to do so. The information provided by CanView is for informational and educational purposes, and is of a general nature. If you are interested in accessing Medicinal Cannabis please talk to your doctor and request a referral to a Medicinal Cannabis clinic.


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