Medical cannabis prescriptions increased in 2020

Cannabis as medicine is becoming more and more important – this is shown by the current data of the GAMSI report of the German statutory health insurance funds. According to the report, sales of cannabis-based medicines once again reached record levels of just under 165 million euros in 2020.

In March 2020, sales of medicinal cannabis were over 16 million euros. This exceeded the previous peak of almost 13 million euros in December 2019. Prescription numbers also increased by 27 per cent compared to 2019. Most popular are cannabis flowers, which are dispensed unprocessed or in the form of preparations at the pharmacy. Cannabinoid preparations such as dronabinol capsules and finished medicines in preparations have gained strongly in importance, with a 76 percent increase in prescriptions.

34 % more turnover with cannabis prescriptions

In 2020, doctors issued 340,165 prescriptions for cannabis-based medicines at the expense of the statutory health insurance. In 2019, 267,348 prescriptions were issued. Compared to the previous year, the number of prescriptions increased by 27 percent.

This is also reflected in the amount of gross sales. In 2020, sales of just over 165 million euros were generated with medical cannabis. In 2019, cannabis preparations worth almost 123 million euros went over the counter in pharmacies. This corresponds to a turnover increase of 34 percent.

Patients prefer unprocessed cannabis flowers

According to data from the current GAMSI report for 2020, unprocessed cannabis flowers together with preparations from cannabis flowers make up the majority of reimbursed cannabis preparations in terms of sales, at 43 percent. However, the number of prescriptions has decreased by 9.7 percent compared to the previous year.

A closer look shows: unprocessed cannabis flowers are increasingly prescribed by doctors. Compared to the year 2019, the number of prescriptions for unprocessed flowers has increased by 10.5 percent. This means that the number of prescriptions increased from 91,299 to 100,909.

For flower preparations, on the other hand, an opposite trend can be seen: in 2019, medical professionals wrote 43,952 prescriptions for cannabis flower preparations. In 2020, the number of prescriptions for these preparations fell by 51.6 percent to 21,262 prescriptions.

Prescription figures for cannabinoid prescriptions and preparations of finished medicinal products increased by 76%

In 2019, cannabinoid preparations (e.g. dronabinol capsules) and preparations of finished medicinal products were the second most prescribed cannabis drug after unprocessed cannabis flowers, with 66,359 prescriptions. 

One year later, these ratios have changed considerably. If the prescription figures for unprocessed cannabis flowers and cannabis preparations are considered separately in 2020, cannabinoid and finished medicinal product prescriptions have now reached first place with 117,171 prescriptions. In second place are unprocessed cannabis flowers, followed by Sativex®.

Relatively stable sales over the course of the year

The report’s data also shows that sales and prescription figures in general for medical cannabis have remained relatively stable over the year. Sales averaged €41.3 million per quarter in 2020. In contrast, sales increased quarter on quarter in 2019.

Epidyolex®, a cannabidiol-containing medicine for rare forms of epilepsy in children (Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome), was approved in Germany in October 2019. Sales of Epidyolex® have increased. The prescription figures for the other cannabis medicines Canemes® and Sativex® have remained almost stable.

Cannabis extracts gain in importance

Sales of unmodified extracts, on the other hand, have increased. In the first half of 2020, i.e. from January to June, sales were 3.96 million euros. In the second half of the year, gross sales rose to almost 5 million euros. This corresponds to an increase of 26.1 per cent.

Overview of gross sales and prescriptions of cannabinoid-containing finished medicinal products and preparations   

2019Gross sales in million Euro*
1st quarter (January – March)24,5
2nd quarter (April – June)29,5
3rd quarter (July – September)32,3
4th quarter (October – December)36,6
Full year123

*Rounded values

2020Gross sales in million Euro*
1st quarter (January – March)41,9
2nd quarter (April – June)40,1
3rd quarter (July – September)40,1
4th quarter (October – December)42,7
Full year165

In what form do doctors prescribe medicinal cannabis?

  • Unprocessed cannabis flowers
  • Cannabis flowers in preparations: crushed, sieved and, if necessary, packaged in individual doses for inhalation after vaporisation or tea preparation
  • Unmodified cannabinoid-containing substances such as cannabis extracts
  • Cannabinoid-containing substances or finished cannabis medicinal products in preparations: e.g. dronabinol in the form of drops and capsules; other finished medicinal products in preparations such as alcoholic inhalation solution or oily cannabis resin solution
  • Imported finished cannabinoid-containing medicinal products: Marinol® (dronabinol capsules), Syndros® (dronabinol solution)
  • Finished cannabinoid-containing medicinal products: Canemes ® (nabilone capsules), Epidyolex® (cannabidiol solution), Sativex ® (oral spray with tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol)

Only patients covered by statutory health insurance are included in the statistics.

The GAMSI report only contains data from patients with statutory health insurance who are covered for the costs of medical cannabis. Privately insured and self-pay patients are not included in this evaluation. Therefore, the total prescription figures and sales of medical cannabis are considerably higher. 

About Minyi Lü

Minyi Lü suffers from chronic pain due to her finger arthritis. She has been treating her complaints very successfully with medicinal cannabis since 2017. As a pharmacist in internship, she now brings her know-how to report on the latest scientific findings around medicinal cannabis.